As I write this, I’m also in the midst of editing my book about homeschooling middle school and helping my middle schoolers finish out their final year before high school. All the wonderful, amazing, infuriating, inspiring things about middle schoolers are swimming around in my mind at the moment.
One of the things that are super clear to me is that middle schoolers are desperate for challenges. All kids, even all people, yearn for challenges. We’re happier when we’re engaged in a puzzle or an engrossing task of some kind. Kids in middle school are experiencing an explosion in brain activity and connectivity. They go from the black and white, concreteness of earlier childhood, to deeper thinking. They’re really yearning for big questions and ideas.
On the other hand, how do you get the challenge right? We also know that when we push kids too hard, they can shut down or become anxious. Schools sometimes ask too much of kids too fast. Most of us got into homeschooling to step away from that sort of childhood rat race!
Here are some tips for finding your way to an appropriate level of challenge:
DON’T give too many rote tasks.
Sometimes parents of middle schoolers realize that they didn’t cover something important in the elementary years and they suddenly freak out and overcompensate with lots of times tables drills or grammar worksheets. Sometimes kids benefit from fill in the blank type tasks, but middle schoolers are mostly outgrowing these basic worksheet style learning tasks. Instead, they need higher order thinking tasks and open-ended questions more often than before.
DON’T increase the volume of work by a lot.
Sometimes parents confuse rigor with volume. You don’t need to do significantly more work in order to make it more challenging.
DON’T make your student miserable.
When challenge is working, it’s invigorating, not tear-inducing. Every kid can have a bad day, and for many students, complaining about schoolwork is just a kneejerk reaction. However, if your student is miserable, then rethink the challenge you’re giving. Sometimes one of my boys whines about math, but when I see him get difficult problems right, there’s a moment where he lights up. Challenging work should have a moment like that, even if it’s not every day.
DO spend longer on a few assignments.
Instead of trying to do more and more assignments, try spending a long time on a single task to get more in depth with it. For example, sometimes you might spend your entire math time on a few problems that are really difficult. Try taking a short story apart in a lengthy discussion instead of a whole novel.
DO ask big questions.
Middle schoolers need to talk about big questions. Including things like current events in your studies can help bring up some issues, as can doing special units on things like philosophy or debate. Tackling literature or movies that are worth discussing can help too. Make discussion and engaging in big questions something special, whether you do it nightly at the dinner table or make a special time to talk about it during school hours.
DO read meaty articles and books.
In order to have opinions and make arguments, kids need to be engaged with materials that are rich and informative. One of the great things about middle schoolers is that they’re often ready to tackle adult level magazines, such as National Geographic, and popular nonfiction, such as books about history and science. They may also be ready for classic literature. However, don’t feel like you need to make the leap away from children’s books too soon. There are plenty of children’s books that explore racism, poverty, philosophy, empathy and other meaty topics.
Handcrafting High School: Year 2, Custer State Park
I think the year you study geology and environmental science, you should spend time outside looking at the subject of your studies, so we did. I did not keep a daily journal, because I had writer’s block. Something I had never experienced before. It gave me insight into what happens for kids who have good ideas but can’t get them onto a page. My writer’s block made me feel like my brain was constipated. I had so many ideas running around in my head I had trouble getting anything out at all. It made me scattered and feel a little crazy. By the time I would get to my computer to write something down, I would forget it in the jumbled, spaghetti noodle, chaotic manner that sometimes has plagued Sean’s writing. This led to a light bulb as I realized what part of Sean’s problem was. The other problem with writing all this down was that National and State Parks, for the most part, had terrible cell service and internet.
86 miles from Pine Ridge nestled in the heart of the Black Hills sits the absolutely beautiful state park, Custer State Park. Both the name of the park and the beauty of it are hard to stomach, especially when you realize the Supreme Court has agreed the Black Hills, including the land this park is on, was illegally taken from the Sioux, but they cannot have it back. Talk about historical trauma! The two photos are symbolic of this. The sign is in protest of the uranium mine built just outside the reservation that is polluting their water. In the park is the residence where Calvin Coolidge spent 3 months during one of the summers he was President, Summer White House in South Dakota. The water at it is not being polluted with radioactive waste.
8/21-22: Custer, SD
We went into the town of Custer, South Dakota to wash clothes, do a little shopping, and stock up on groceries. The people were lovely. We wondered though, how it would be if Sean and Sophia looked like a Native Americans. We had read about and heard so many stories about racist actions toward the Sioux in South Dakota, and they made us recognize and acknowledge the white privilege conferred on us. The kids began to think of stereotyping as a dangerous thing to do, even though Sean told us everybody does it, and you have to think about it not to do it.
This Park is has great wildlife viewing in it.
The next day we drove around the wildlife loop and to an area just outside the park where someone told me about a large prairie dog town.
Just outside Custer State Park is Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave is huge. In fact it is so huge that wind occurs at its natural opening. Whether the wind blows into or out of this opening depends on the atmospheric pressure outside of the cave. When the pressure is high, wind blows into the cave, and when it is low, it blows out of the cave. Wind Cave has over 100 miles of passageways. As you can see from the yellow tape our guide is holding, the pressure on this day was higher outside the cave than inside it, which is why the yellow tape is being sucked into the opening.
Native Americans consider(ed) Wind Cave a sacred place.Caves are fascinating examples of the geologic forces that shape Earth. The original cave began forming about 320 million years ago in a fresh/salt water zone. About 470,000 years ago the cave started draining, Wind Cave geology and more Wind Cave geology.
These boxwork formations are rare in caves, boxwork . Boxwork remains after the rest of the cave has dissolved away because of differences in solubility of the mineral calcite, which is what boxwork form from, and the minerals that surrounded them.
After two days at Custer we headed toward Jackson Hole, home to an old family friend of mine. There had been some discussion about seeing Mount Rushmore, and I said, “No Way!” I just couldn’t. The man who originally carved Mount Rushmore was in the KKK, Mount Rushmore, the KKK, and sanitized American history. After learning this, it was unanimous. We stopped outside of the Crazy Horse Monument, but we didn’t pay to visit there either. It didn’t look to me like that monument benefited the Native Peoples in South Dakota, and we were all done with supporting businesses in South Dakota that did not give back to the Native Community.
Check out our previous homeschooling high school post here.
The first month of tenth grade might have been the best month we ever spent homeschooling. You might be thinking, “Well, Yeah! You were traveling and hanging out. How could that not be great?” 🙂 That is true, of course, but it was more than that. The planning and intent for this trip focused on enriched learning. The choices for where we stayed and what we did were planned with the intent that what we studied on the road would enrich our understanding of a situation in science, culture, and/or history. We were not disappointed.
I am behind in my writing so I can tell you from perspective, that this year is the best example of what I mean by the statement that for our homeschool the method we use is the one that works. The factors that go into deciding the method or mix of them are
what my son is studying: different subjects require different methodologies.
the best materials and/or programs I can find for the course. Even for subjects I know well, I like to find materials to reference.
how he accesses information while studying the materials for that course of study. This is a mixed bag for him. Sean is a very creative person, and subject areas he considers creative he treats differently than those subjects, like math, that he does not consider creative endeavors.
how I am best able to present that material, in other words, “the best way for me to teach it.” You have probably noticed I usually talk about learning, but I am Sean’s primary teacher, chooser of materials, and chooser of core courses. So, the materials and courses have to work for me too.
and what comes along to be added in while we are engaged in the subject. This is the reason this blog post is late. Really cool opportunities keep coming up.
Each course of study gets its own special treatment. If my son and I think something is important enough to include in his academic journey, then I will work to figure out the best course of study for him for this subject. Sometimes this “best method” is universal for most students, sometimes it is specific to my son or people who access information similar to him, and sometimes what looks like the “best” on the outside does not end up being the best after we get started with it. If what we do sounds good to you I think there are two things to recognize. 1. It is a lot of work to give someone a handcrafted education, and 2. the results are so worth it! Over the years it has been hard to judge this from time to time, but now in tenth grade I am able to see I mostly got it just right.
There is also a big difference between mostly right and all right, when it comes to my relationship with my son’s journey through learning. I think a lot of problems can occur when homeschooling parents assume they have figured out a course that is all right. It is too easy to become attached to paths when that happens. Because I assume with a lot of work, the best I will ever attain is mostly right, I keep working hard to figure out what best is and what it looks like. This results in us adding and discarding parts without getting too attached to them as I continually work to get the journey mostly right. This work is where and when the magic happens.
Because we have already incorporated so many methods into this year’s homeschool journey, I will try to discuss them as I go along. My goal with my 10th grade blog articles will be to focus more on the process we use. I get a lot of people asking me for more information about that aspect of our handcrafted education.
A year or two ago I decided to start tenth grade with a service project, followed by a driving tour studying local history, conservation, and geology, especially geology. Plate tectonics is a core concept of geology, but tectonic plates are so big, it is hard to see how slow moving rocks can lead to the formation of something massive like the Himalayas. I wanted to follow the Pacific Ring of Fire down the West Coast of the U.S. so that Sean could get an idea how large tectonic plates are. Besides, I think the year you study geology and environmental science, you should spend a lot of time outside looking at the subject of your studies. This illustrates the most common learning strategy I use. I will ask Sean to study the basics of a core concept, like plate tectonics, just the basics at this point, nothing intense. Next we learn about those basics in a practical manner, as we did with our driving tour. At that point he is fairly literate about this core concept. Then we will return to our course of study, in this case geology, with an understanding of this core concept. This gives you a place to bring everything together and take learning to a new level. It turned out to be everything I hoped for and more. You might be thinking, but how can I do that. There is no way I can spend 5 weeks on the road. Just remember field trips will work too. 🙂
I am going to write this using photos and short blurbs about where we were and why. I did write a few blog pieces focused on location. I will include those links.
Getting to the Service Project
8/11/2015: We packed up and got ready.
Five of us left together on our grand adventure. In addition to me, there was my son Sean, his best friend Sophia, my husband Jim, and our good friend Michelle. I love to pack for our adventures. We planned on spending 5 weeks on the road, most of that sleeping in our pop-up trailer. We would sleep in the dorms and eat in the communal dining hall at Re-member, but the rest of the time we would sleep and eat primarily from food we cooked in the pop-up. This would save us a lot of money, but it also made it easier because of the 5 of us, 2 are vegan, 2 are vegetarian, and Michelle, the only meat eater of the bunch, was leaving us after Re-member. Getting vegan food on the road in the U.S. is not easy. It is so much easier to do in other countries!
8/12 near Great Basin National Park, Nevada
We started in Bridgeport, California at 5 in the morning. We packed up the night before so we could start early. We wanted to get on the road early, so we could find ourselves in the middle of nowhere a couple of hours before dark. We planned on waking up at 2 in the morning on 8/13 to watch the Perseid meteor shower, http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2015/11aug_perseids/. It was a long hot drive and everyone was a bit crispy by the time we got to a spot we liked, but it was well worth it. The Perseids did not disappoint.
A good place to watch a meteor shower, away from any light pollution.
Sean complains, but I still make him go to guided talks with us. Jim complains too sometimes, but they humor me! I tell Sean he may not thank me as a teenager, but he will thank me when he is 30!
Look at the uplift! This area might be quiet now, but it hasn’t always been that way.
There is evidence that these organisms once swam where we are standing now. Inland seas, dinosaurs, volcanic activity, uplift, and now us standing on the ever-changing Earth!
We saw petroglyphs too! Jim, my husband, and I love to hike and hunt out evidence of ancient civilizations. I was glad to see these on our way to Re-member. Too often the history of the North American continent is taught as if it started when Columbus “discovered” America. I wanted there to be a focus throughout this month on how history is interpreted and often distorted.
We went to check out an old homestead before heading back to our campsite. My family is all from Colorado. Many of the summers of my childhood were spent in the town of Eagle, Colorado. This homestead made me nostalgic for those days.
Working on kendama tricks was a major theme of the trip!
Cleaning the dust off in the Green River.
You might be curious about the planning for all this. If it looks like I have everything planned down to the nth, you might be surprised. Most of this is done haphazardly. My son will tell you I am the free-spirited type and often when we travel, figuring things out on the fly, on the road is best. Plans like the when and where for our service project, are figured out well ahead of time, but the rest is not. For example, the plan to go to Dinosaur National Monument Park was figured out two days before we left. I happened to read about it somewhere, none of us had heard of it before, and away we went.
Check out our post on an eclectic and effective approach to foreign language studies here.
We school year round with lots of breaks. That doesn’t matter to a planner like me though. Every year I have a start date and an end date. The year-end date for this year was the day we picked Sean up from Stanford. Our life was a whirlwind during the time leading up to that. Talk about eclectic! And academic! And we always keep it secular! Science is not a small part of our life!
Planning for next year
The previous month I had Sean work on some short nonfiction essays. As he was working on these I realized the structuring of his ideas was chaotic. What he had to say was good, but often it felt like he had dumped all of his ideas on a plate in a way that reminded me of cooked spaghetti noodles. This is something we will focus on next year. One of the most important things I do during the last scheduled month of our school year is assess where Sean is in the core subjects, and what specific things he needs to work on the following year. From this standpoint my scheduling makes sense. Maybe I should think of it as an assessment period instead of an endpoint. Especially since I change, tweak, and update the plan regularly.
Assessment is an important part of the teaching and learning process. It’s gotten a bad name in recent years because of the testing culture at traditional schools, but it is critical to evaluate someone’s progress when you are teaching them, especially if you are an eclectic, academic homeschooler. You can trust your child is at grade level if you use a good, solid textbook or course that is at grade level, but you’re still going to need to assess them to make sure they have learned the material. We like to mix it up as you know if you’ve been reading about our handcrafted education this year. Some of Sean’s best and most meaningful work is done without any outside guidance. The problem with evaluating that work is there is nowhere for me to go to get a feel for where Sean’s work is as far as “grade” level.
Evaluating Sean’s progress isn’t as difficult as it could be, because I’m not holding Sean to a standard designed by someone who does not know him. I let the evaluation and the plan for next year reflect Sean’s academic strengths and weaknesses. I find challenging material for him in those areas where he is strong and I am thoughtful and careful when choosing material for the areas where he struggles.
The most intense planning is for subjects I think people should just know. In eighth and ninth grade it was computer programming. In tenth grade it will be American government and politics. The longer I homeschool the more comfortable I am when I design a course that is most likely different from any other student is studying. I no longer worry if colleges will like the courses. It just isn’t about colleges’ approval for us. I am guided instead by what I consider essential knowledge in today’s world. These courses often include knowledge of topics where I think high schools are dropping the ball by not teaching them in a meaningful way. The low-level to non-existent computer programming skills being taught is one example. Another example is that kids are getting out of high school, at an age when they can vote, without an understanding of key issues in the political science of today. Issues being decided that, because of the difference in age, will affect them much more than the people deciding them. Because these are unique classes they take a lot of planning, and it is important to me that they be academic in addition to being enriching, which takes even more planning. If possible I weave necessary skill-building lessons into these areas, which takes even more planning.
May 1 to May 26, 2015
We had three chapters of algebra to get through to be finished for the year. Math was a big part of this month. Algebra this year has been very interesting. My grandmother said to me once, “In our family math is either so easy you can work through it as easily as you can fall into a pool or you have to work at it.” Until this year Sean had to work at it. Something clicked this year. Math is still his least favorite subject, but he now thinks it is his easiest. If you think I am lucky because of this, I would agree with you, but you have no idea how much drama and angst there has been about math over the years.
Early this month Sean said to me, “I would like to write an article about programs teaching computer coding to help others who want their kids to learn to code. I have been so fortunate with the programs you have found for me, I want to give something back,” How to Get Started with Coding, Sean Lee. Sometimes there are glimmers of the adult he’s going to be, and then there’s the rest of the time. 😉
The rest of the writing for the month focused on politics, Spain, and the volunteer trip we would be taking in August on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Because Sean needed to work on structuring, I sent him a nonfiction article daily. I had him start his day reading this article. I would discuss the topic of the article with him, and the structuring the author used for the article.
I like to use other people’s writing when discussing Sean’s writing. We do not use these writings for copy work however. Sean has never enjoyed copy work. I am not a fan of it either. We both consider copy work drudgery. I understand that you can learn techniques from copying the work of others. Sean and I choose to learn those techniques in ways that do not include copy work though. I think of writing as a creative process. To me it is an art form. When you write something that comes from you, it is original. It is unique. It is something you created from your mind. I think creating your own original work is meaningful and special. I come from a family of visual artists and designers. I am the only member of my family who uses words to create their art. I am terrible at creating visual art. I do like to design things though. I want Sean to experience the beauty others use with the artistry of their words. I look for him to use some of the techniques he observes while he crafts his own writing instead of by copying those techniques directly.
Other writing techniques we will focus on in tenth grade are transitions between paragraphs, comma splicing, and concluding paragraphs.
Sean did not finish either of the Coursera courses he started. We ran out of time. Instead he spent his time reviewing the programs in his portfolio so he would be up to speed on these skills when he went to Stanford.
What a wonderful time to be studying astronomy. There are so many new discoveries in this field of science being made every day it is hard to keep up with all of them. We gave it a good try though. Sean took topics out of my book and learned more about them. It was exciting to hear what he was learning. He also used Khan Academy focusing on the math used by astronomers.
This was a busy month of rowing. There were away races and practices were mandatory. Sean has loved this sport. It is much nicer living within biking distance too. Sean hops on his bike, rides to and from, and rows in the middle of his ride.
Eclectic, Academic World-Schooling: Spain
Raising our child to be a global citizen is one of the things my husband and I think is essential knowledge for today’s world. We mainly use travel to make this happen. I cannot lie and say the travel is just for him. I am a vagabond at heart. I absolutely love to see people’s differences. Travel lets us see how those differences are reflected in different cultures. Because of rowing, our trips this year were during the summer, rowing’s off-season.
Our reason for choosing Spain was more eclectic than academic, not that this affected the things I dragged everyone to. My husband has always wanted to go to Spain, and the exchange rate this summer favored the dollar. Spain was fantastic. It was my husband, Jim’s, favorite place we’ve ever travel to. It was one of Sean’s favorites. My favorite is still India. I love Spain, but there is something about India and the people of India that resonates with me like nowhere else I have ever been. You can read about our trip to Spain here, our stay in Spain and India here, our stay in India.
HSC Campout, June 20 to 26
One of the homeschool groups in California, HSC, has weeklong campouts throughout the year. These are so much fun to attend. One of these campouts started a couple of days before we got home from Spain. Sean begged us to let him go. I was receiving emails from friends asking me to go as well. There was no way I was going to get home from Spain and immediately camp for a week. Sean on the other hand had someone pick him up the day he got back from Spain so he could go camping. I might just be raising a vagabond! Camping with HSC
The CHN Conference, June 27 to 28
I picked Sean up on the way to a homeschool conference where I was speaking. One of the perks of having a mother who speaks at homeschool conferences is that you get to attend them. I had heard from other homeschoolers over the years that one of the highlights of their year was attending an annual homeschool conference. I did not take that very seriously until we had attended our first. They are a blast for kids and their parents. In addition to being fun to attend, conferences are a great place for homeschoolers to meet other homeschoolers, make friends, and share ideas. Homeschoolers are a spread out bunch. It is rare to find a group of us together at the same time. I think conferences are important for homeschoolers with a homeschool related business or endeavor for networking. I also think the talks geared toward parents are a sort of academic enrichment. Of course you have to find talks on topics that bring something to your homeschool. If you can find those, you can learn new techniques and tips and gain insight into issues affecting your homeschool situation.
This conference I had a big surprise coming. In the middle of April, I started the Facebook Group Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers. I did not realize how many people were going to want to talk to me about the group and the content in the article I wrote that led to the formation the group. I brought 50 copies of the article, just in case someone wanted to read it. The copies were gone in a couple of hours. Honestly I was so busy at this conference I barely had time to go to or eat.
The attention I was getting did not go unnoticed by the conference organizers. They asked if I would help them arrange and find speakers for an academic track for their 2016 conference! How exciting! They are looking for talks about Science, Mathematics, Social Studies, Computer Science and other STEM areas, History, and Language Arts. The talks should offer practical information such as curriculum recommendations, online or outside resources (i.e. museums), why it is important to learn certain subjects and where this knowledge can take your child.
There will also be a Curriculum Library in the room where the Homeschooling 101 sessions will be held. I am a big fan of looking over materials before buying them. This is a great idea. I will make sure they have a full complement of Pandia Press’ products. If there are materials you would particularly like to look over contact Diane or Martin Forte, CHN curriculum library.
Stanford Pre-Collegiate Computer Simulations and Artificial Intelligence Program, AKA Where Sean Learned to Dance!
Yes you read that correctly! About 4 years into our homeschool journey, my husband remarked that, “One of the major benefits of homeschooling is kids grow up following their own interests. They do not have peer pressure, telling them something is or is not cool.” Sean has grown up being taught if you are interested in something, you should investigate and learn more about it. We believe the places your mind takes you are more than just your idiosyncrasies; they are part of the core essence that makes you unique. My one caveat to this is that Sean has to stick with something he has invested time in even when it gets difficult and complicated, as happened during this school year with computer programming.
I believe Stanford feels the same. When we took Sean to drop him off we attended a welcome dinner. At the dinner one of the speakers said this to the students, “There are no grades, so there should be no fear of failure. Dare to take risks. These three weeks are about exploring ideas and intellectually challenging yourself.” Which is just what Sean did, but not in the way I expected him to do it.
I do not believe language arts and math should be the only important criteria for measuring intelligence, as is often the case in schools today. For that reason Sean has not been raised to only value them. Many years ago I read about the theory of multiple intelligences, The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Wikipedia. I have a degree in evolutionary biology, and from the standpoint of evolution and natural selection this theory makes sense. From the standpoint of both a parent and an educator, this theory is observable. Sean has been raised with the understanding that bodily kinesthetic is a type of intelligence and should be treated and valued as such, which is probably why he did not think it would be an issue with his parents when he spent more time at Stanford learning to dance than he did working on computer programming. He was right too. Sean had never, and I mean never, ever! including dancing at teen dances, shown any interest in dancing, despite my love of dancing. I do so love to dance. Nothing structured, but when the music and mood strike, I can dance all night.
Sean had only been at Stanford a couple of days when he texted me telling me he had a new passion, dance. I was beyond surprised, and began peppering him with worried questions asking about the program, and whether he was studying computer programming. He was. It was just that he had a new interest, oh and by the way, he wasn’t going to do crew in the coming year, and I had to find hip hop dance lessons for him. LOL, Jim and I had a harder time digesting that then we did about him not focusing the bulk of his learning at Stanford on computer programming. It would not be until sometime in October that we got over him wanting to dance instead of row. He definitely dared to take a risk, did not fear failure, explored new ideas, and intellectually and physically challenged himself! I was very proud of him! That did not keep me from joking, though, that I sent Sean to Stanford to learn computer programming and he learned to dance instead. I hope Sean never stops dancing to his own drummer!
Check out last months post from handcrafting high school here.
The present castle in Peniscola was built by the Knights Templar from 1294 to 1307. It looks like a prime piece of real estate that would be easy to defend. From 1415 to 1423 it was home of the antipope Benedict XIII. Wait…antipope? What is an antipope?
An antipope (Latin: antipapa) is a person who, in opposition to the one who is generally seen as the legitimately elected Pope, makes a significantly accepted competing claim to be the Pope,the Bishop of Rome and leader of the Roman Catholic Church. At times between the 3rd and mid-15th century, antipopes were supported by a fairly significant faction of religious cardinals and secular kings and kingdoms. Persons who claim to be pope, but have few followers, such as the modern sedevacantist antipopes, are not classified with the historical antipopes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antipope#List_of_historical_antipopes
Between 1378 and 1417 there was the Western Schism in the Roman Catholic Church. During the Western Schism there were several men claiming to be Pope at the same time. The Schism was not caused by theological differences. It was about power. Each of these men was backed by a group of supporters who wanted the power and money that came with the papacy. (FYI there is also an East-West Schism which refers to the break between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.)
How does all this relate to Pensicola? In 1398, Benedict XIII was abandoned by most of his supporters as the Catholic Church worked to end the Western Schism and unite the various factions so that they all recognized the same man as Pope. Benedict refused to give up his title as Pope and had to seek refuge in Peniscola where he lived for the rest of his life. This part of Spain was then in what was called the Crown of Aragon. Benedict claimed to be Pope in opposition to the legitimately elected Pope and had enough members of the clergy backing him, so he is considered an antipope.
When I first started reading about Benedict XIII, I found the story intriguing. The more I learned about him, though, the less I liked him. He was an anti-Semite who wrote the Disputation of Tortosa, 1413-1414. Which was a “debate” between Christians and Jews that the Jews were forced to participate in. The purpose was the conversion of Jewish citizens. We had learned about these sorts of debates in Girona, https://blairleeblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/leaving-girona-for-the-abbaye-de-capservy-in-the-south-of-france-june-3-2015/. The result was that most wealthy Jews in the Aragon area did convert to Christianity. Benedict engaged in this to bolster flagging support for his claim to the papacy. He wasn’t successful in this, but the Dispuataion of Tortosa is considered the most prominent Jewish-Christian disputation of the Middle Ages. Pope’s preaching prejudice (even the ones who are just antipopes) should be an oxymoron not just alliterative .
Peniscola is close to Sitges which made today’s drive easy. Earlier in the week, I researched the best beach community near Barcelona to spend 3 days in. Sitges, Spain came up. I am so glad we chose there. We all liked it a lot! Right away!
In Sitges, we stayed in a second floor apartment over a cafe right across the street from a beautiful beach, https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4981447?euid=5fcbbd65-f44e-162e-ee92-0902b9ae0a98. If you think we broke the bank on our accommodations this trip, we did not. These sort of accommodations in Spain are much more reasonable than they are in the U.S.
Half a block up a walking street was Loc Elec Sitges, http://www.locelecsitges.com/en/. When you travel with two active teens, you find yourself looking at the sorts of activities we found at Loc Elec and in Ainsa. Even the most ardent history buff (me) gets burned out on historic sites if you do not break it up from time to time. This trip had more breaks than normal. Maybe that is the trend with Sean and friends for the next few years.
Loc Elec Sitges is a family run business. We dealt with Xavier. He was great. He let us try everything we wanted to. The gyropode was all I wanted to try ;-). Everyone else wanted to try more than that. We all settled on what we thought we would like best, and then we were off.
We rode up and down the boardwalk for a couple of hours. It was a great introduction to the town of Sitges. Sophia and I stopped occasionally and shopped from stands we rode past.
The gyropode I rented spoke Chinese. I thought Xavier was kidding when he told me this, but he wasn’t. For a short time I knew how to say, “Slow down, you are exceeding the suggested speed,” (or something close to that) in Chinese. If I ever go to China let’s hope I don’t need to know that phrase!
We had so much fun!
Somehow Sean managed to turn my gyropode off. By the time I figured out how to turn it back on, I changed it from Chinese to English. It was more fun to ride when I didn’t know it was telling me to slow down 😉
Sean woke me up early. “Mom, I have broken out in a bad rash, or bites, or something all over!” Well, that will get a mother up and going! We could not figure it out. No one else had any bumps. Could it be that Sean was allergic to the detergent used when we washed clothes, or maybe it was the 30 to 40 nispero (fruits from the tree in the backyard) he ate over the course of 1&1/2 days? We still are not sure. In two itchy, scratchy days they were gone. It did get us going earlier than expected though.
The night before we finally planned the last bit of our trip. We would spend 1 night getting there, then stay in Sitges for three days. Sitges is a small beach community just south of Barcelona and north of Tarragona. The last night we would stay at an airport hotel in Barcelona. Today we would drive to Orce, Spain and sleep where the wind took us as long as it was in the direction of Sitges.
You might think the pronunciation of Orce is ors, but it is orth, with the th drawn out. Early in our trip. Jim noticed it sounded as if people were saying grathious instead of gracious. At first he thought it was a lisp. He quickly realized the entire population of Spain most likely did not have a lisp. When he asked about it, it was explained to him that the c is often (but not always) pronounced as th.
When I heard there were mammoth fossils being excavated in the Granada area, I Googled it right away. Not only have they found mammoth fossils, but they found the remains of humans dated to over a million years old. This sort of detour is why we prefer to travel like we do. It does mean that sometimes we cannot get the tickets to a palace we would otherwise visit, but it also means we have the flexibility to take an unplanned detour to see fossils.
Traveler’s Tip: If you visit the Orce area between July 6 to September 7, you can visit one of the digs with people working at them. If you read about it here and go, I want photos! I will be super jealous, but I still want to hear about it!
We like to travel off the beaten path. Orce, Spain qualifies for this. We were the only 4 people in the entire museum. They unlocked it for us. Gave us some cards explaining what we were looking at, and left us to look. I should start a hashtag #PlacesInSpainWithNobodyThere. Here is what is sad, people should be visiting these places. These places have all been seriously cool.
I am including photos from literature given to use while visiting the museum.
It is now thought that the first people living on the European continent lived in Southern Spain and were from Africa. Looking at the geography this makes sense. Some scientists think people were living in Europe as early as 1.8 million year BCE. It is thought there might have been a land bridge between north Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. The countries of Spain, Portugal, and Andorra make up the Iberian Peninsula.
When Orce man was discovered there was great excitement in the scientific community. It was then suggested that the fragment was that of an equine species. Tests done since support the scientific theory that the fragment is of human origin. The other evidence that has been excavated in Orce are several human teeth and stones that have been sharpened to make tools. Until I was back in the States I did not appreciate what I was looking at when I looked at the skull fragment. In Orce, I was more excited about the tooth on display. Little did I know that the skull fragment was one of the key pieces of “evidence” creationists use when attempting to discredit the occurrence of evolution. The skull fragment was found at one of the four excavation sites surrounding Orce.
What the creationists say about Orce man.
Orce man: Found in the southern Spanish town of Orce in 1982, and hailed as the oldest fossilized human remains ever found in Europe. One year later officials admitted the skull fragment was not human but probably came from a 4 month old donkey. Scientists had said the skull belonged to a 17-year-old man who lived 900,000 to 1.6 million years ago, and even had very detail drawings done to represent what he would have looked like. (source: “Skull fragment may not be human”, Knoxville News-Sentinel, 1983) http://www.nwcreation.net/evolutionfraud.html
The statement is misleading and they do not use a solid science reference. it also has not been updated to include the latest evidence using albumin analysis, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02436194#page-1, which isn’t very new, but I thought you would find it interesting.
I had no idea when I chose science as a discipline of study, that I was heading down a path with controversy. I am a secular, academic, homeschooling scientist who writes about evolution, the Big Bang, human causes of climate change, and living on a multi-million year old planet in a multi-billion year old universe, though, so… As you can imagine, I was over the top excited when I realized I saw the oldest human fossils to be discovered on the European continent!!!
We drove for the night until we were ready to be done. This put us near Peniscola where we found a room for the night. I read about it on my phone and it sounded like a good place to stay. This is where the Spanish tourists hang out. (In droves! It felt like the beach area in California in the summer on steroids!) The people were friendly, the beach lovely, and we could not wait to get out of there the next morning. Imagine a Disney Hotel at max capacity and then add more people!
People kept asking if we were British. I asked, and was told that is because Peniscola is not a destination Americans go to. It was eye-opening though, and I am glad we stayed, because now we know the Spanish do vacation. When I said something about the hotel staff not being able to distinguish between a U.S. and British accent Sean made a great point. He asked why someone who barely speaks English would notice the difference. Several people told me I speak Mexican Spanish. Sean pointed out that I couldn’t tell the difference between that and Castillian Spanish.
After dinner we rode around Peniscola in a pedal cab. Sean and Jim did most of the peddling. Then Sean took over and did it all. Just one of the perks of bringing a fit 15-year-old boy with you! We were laughing so hard. Don’t you love the sound of kids laughing!
Here is a list of the articles I read about the fossils in Orce.
When you buy tickets for the Alhambra you have to choose between the morning or afternoon. We chose afternoon because the morning session started at 8 a.m. We had yet to even be awake once that early in the morning. The problem with that is the temperature. It had been warm in the afternoons all week. Still we were glad we chose the afternoon. We were all enjoying waking late every morning.
Over the past few months in the States there have been many news stories about African refugees trying to come to Europe. We had seen and even bought things from men on the streets since we had been in Spain. Today Sean and Sophia bought a hat and sunglasses from two men who told us they were from Somalia. Over the next few days I asked and was told often by men selling things in the street that they were from Somalia. The men today seemed to be being bossed around by an older red-haired woman who had no teeth. I really hope these men are not working off their passage by hawking cheap trinkets in front of the Alhambra.
Unfortunately, I didn’t decide I wanted to tell you all about this until the Somali expats were walking away. When I was finally done fumbling with my camera they had walked away. You can just see the two walking up the tree-lined lane.
The woman with red hair and green shirt at the bench is the woman who seemed to be their boss. If she is I hope she is at least a good and fair one.
Sophia needed new sunglasses & Sean needed glasses and a new sun hat. “I can wear it camping mom.” (6/20/15: He has it with him on a camping trip he left for on the day we returned.)
It is hard to wrap your head around what it must be like to be an adult trying to feed yourself and possibly your family back home this way. I hope their life is a good one. My heart hurts that this might not be the case. I wish the dreams we all had for ourselves could be realized. (Bleeding heart, tree hugging, liberal type here 😉 in case you hadn’t figured that out yet.)
Our reason for visiting Granada was to see the Alhambra. Many people over the past 2 weeks had told us we could not visit Spain and skip the Alhambra. So we booked 2 nights in Granada. Granada turned out to be worth visiting for much more than the Alhambra. We all really like the vibe of the town, and the house where we are staying is awesome. If you are going to Granada, especially with a family, I recommend it, https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/5445326.
Here are a series of photos from inside the Alhambra. A tip I have for you is to buy your tickets 2 to 3 weeks before you need them. By the time I tried to buy the tickets they only had the Generalife tickets available. This was all the kids cared about seeing anyway, and if you have to choose one, this is what you want to see. We had admittance into every area except the Nasrid Palace. When you enter the grounds of the Alhambra you have your choice where to start. It is divided (on the map and with signage) into several areas. We went left, because that is where #1 on the audio is. I rented a handheld audio guide . I like information on the tour, but no one else cares. They trust me to tell them about the interesting parts 😉 Jim took the photos today, because I was busy holding the guide.
Water was important to life and to the faith of the Moors. In college I learned that Moors were Berbers, and that the term Moor is not synonymous with Muslim, as some people including Jim thought. The written information on the internet is very confusing on this issue. It might have to do with the fact that the Christians conquered the Moors, and therefore wrote the history after that. During the xenophobic time when Christians were using divisive religion tactics to force mass conversions or expulsions with the confiscation of property to increase their numbers, they would have benefited greatly from stereotyping all Moors as also being Muslims, but that is just where my mind wandered as I was processing what we had seen in Girona with the history we were learning at the Alhambra. I do not know how accurate this is, but it is a very interesting list, http://www.blackhistorystudies.com/resources/resources/15-facts-on-the-moors-in-spain/. The material on this list is closer to what I learned in college than much of what is on the Internet, but I do not know much about this time or area of history.
Much of what is seen today has been restored. The French burned the Alhambra when they conquered this area.
Most of the photos here show the Moorish influence in their architecture and design details. The photo above is of the Santa Maria de la Alhambra. A beautiful building that was a mosque, before it was converted into a church.
Below I am standing in front of the Bano de la Mezquita. This type of communal bath was a place to take ablutions before prayer, socialize, and gather.
The roof of the bano. This shows Charles V conquering his Moorish adversaries.
From the wall surrounding Charles V Palace. Jim says that is a good view of where we are staying.
The Puerta del Vino above is purportedly the oldest structure in the Alhambra.
Since 1556, the neighbours of the Alhambra left at this gate the wine that they drunk and which was not submitted to taxation. This is a possible explanation for the gate’s name, although there is another theory, according to which the name is the result of a mistake. Apparently two words got muddled up: «Bib al-hamra’», meaning Red Gate or Gate to the Alhambra, which would be the original name of the gate, and «Bib al-jamra», meaning Wine Gate. This second theory would then prove that this was the access gate to the higher Alhambra.
Across from the wine gate is more running water.Up the steps with the running water to the next area called the Alcazaba. “The word derives from the Arabic word القصبة (al-qasbah), a walled-fortification in a city,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcazaba. Which is exactly what it looked like. Sean and Sophia ran up to the top, while I caught my breath.
Here is a photo of them at the top. Good thing Sean bought that hat so he was easy to spot. I still see Sean, where is Sophia?
Sean waits at the tunnel from the staircase to the top of the tower of the Alcazaba. The top of this tower has a great view looking back across the Alhambra, because it is at the far west end.
Sean trying to give me a heart attack! “Mom, I bet I could scale down from here.” “If you do that Sean, I will kill you myself!” This is the view from the other side of the tower. You can see why they built a watch tower here. We strolled from there through the gardens to what is called Generalife.
There were several of these towers like the one above along the way. They look like watch towers, but they were not. They were living quarters, oratories, and other structures. The audio guide quoted often from the text The Alhambra written in 1832 by Washington Irving. I really wish I had read it before visiting. Here is a link for you to a free copy of the book, http://pinkmonkey.com/dl/library1/irvng001.pdf. Irving visited many of these outer buildings before the interiors were stripped, and he describes them in his text. Generalife is at the north-east side of the Alhambra complex. The photo below shows the view looking west and a bit north.
Generalife has water everywhere. Beautiful flowers and scents and water are a with you in most areas of the Alhambra, all except Alcazaba. This view looks out on the White Church where we were last night and the Albaicin. (There are several ways to spell this. I have chosen the spelling we saw in Grenada.)The Albaicin, the area we are staying in, has been inhabited since pre-Roman times. Today this area reflects the Moorish influence over a series of centuries, not Roman or Christian. The palace of the Alhambra was completed in the 14th century by a Moorish ruler of that time, Yusuf I and his son Mohammed V. The Catholic Monarch Charles V also has a palace on the grounds built in 1526. That was the building we almost got locked in the night before. The 1500’s were a tumultuous time as the Moors and Catholics fought for who was going to rule in southern Spain. After winning a series of battles, Charles V built his palace as a symbol that a new power was in charge and it was a Catholic one. Charles V increased taxes to build the Palace which after a while led to an uprising. (Jim and I both read Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot by Masha Gessen this trip. It made us more reflective and thoughtful about the power the people actually have if they act as a collective. http://www.amazon.com/Words-Will-Break-Cement-Passion/dp/1594632197).
The walls were built in the days when those kept people out!
This is an ambulance we saw at the Alhambra. This gives a great idea of how small and tight the streets are in historic medieval areas of Europe.
We were ready to get back. The kids wanted to swim and Sean and Sophia both wanted to eat more of these!
The kids were ready to get to Granada. The house we were staying at there had a pool, and they wanted to swim in it. It had been warm and sunny for the past three days, definitely swimming weather.
Jim spotted this on the way there. I wonder if asparagus is transported like this everywhere? Spain has the best produce. The Spanish are proud of this too. Organic food and food that has not been genetically modified are the norm not the exception. When they get rid of weeds from between the cracks of sidewalks they use weed-whackers not Round-up. The Spanish seem to have made a conscious decision not to poison the Earth and its inhabitants. It changes the dynamic in a very positive way when consumers are put before big corporations on food issues. It is lucky for us we have been staying in some Airbnb properties so I observed this as we have been shopping in the small markets here.
The house we rented for 2 nights is in the Albaicin district in Granada is in the old historic Moorish area. As you will see many of the homes in the area and the streets still show the historic influence. The kids and I were dropped off with Samar, the home owner and walked to the house while Jim found a place to park where the lanes were wide enough to fit our rental car.
The entire Albaicin neighborhood was declared a world heritage site in 1984. One of the main tourist attractions in Granada is walking in this area. The cobbled streets, architecture, and small market squares transport you back in time. Here is a link to a good Wikipedia article about this area, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albayz%C3%ADn
Yeah! The pool!
There is also a nispero tree.
The kitchen! We went right out to buy food to make dinner at the house.
Mammooth beer, we asked? We were told mammoth bones had been excavated from the surrounding mountain range, The Sierra Nevada Mountains. I wonder where our Sierra Nevada Mountains got their name?
When we were grocery shopping in the Alabicin area, Sophia turned to me and said, “We have found the hippie district of Spain. I bet there are homeschoolers here.” We Googled it, and there are.
You are a vegan and a vegetarian? Sophia and I heard many times on this trip. Spain is a meat eating, meat loving country, but it has a core of people who are passionate about not eating meat. These people loved the Americans who were vacationing in Spain and not eating meat. When the ecological food store owner (We saw this term on many store fronts. We think this is what Spain calls their organic stores.) learned about our eating habits, she gave Sophia a milk chocolate bar for a present and me candies that were vegan, figs stuffed with hazelnuts dipped in vegan chocolate. They were really good!
The furnishings in the house we stayed at were lovely. This house really was a find. It is in a lovely quiet area. It has everything you could want, and it is beautifully appointed.
Samar told us we should walk up the hill to the white church to see the Alhambra at sunset. We stopped and took photos of graffiti along the way. Sean has always loved graffiti and likes to check out any he sees and likes. Hmmm, why is the vegan taking the picture, not in it?
This entire area from Seville east has cave houses like the one below
The view of the Alhambra from the white church on the hill.
Do you see The Alhambra at our shoulders? The photo below is of some guys we met and started talking to at the top.
On the walk down the hill, we took a different path.
This is the opening to a water well, Aljibe as they are called in Spanish. There are over 25 Aljibe in the Albaicin district. Here is a link to a walking tour through the area using the water wells as points of interest, http://www.piccavey.com/aljibes-granada/. We preferred to get lost in the Albaicin and find our way against following a set path. Getting lost was not a real problem, because once I had eaten at our house and bought food at a market, I could always find my way to either of these locations. It is a very strange trait. I have a terrible sense of direction, that is, unless I have ever eaten somewhere. Any place I have eaten or bought food at I can always find my way to again.
At 11:30 at night with the kids yawning, I said, “Let’s go check the Alhambra out.” We came very close to getting locked in. Wouldn’t that be cool (and uncool at the same time ;-). We just walked in. It is so much more relaxed than U.S.
The kids didn’t appreciate it it, but they will. Just give them a decade!
The Flying Dutchmen told us what a blast they had riding around Seville on a Segway. We called every Segway rental company we could find on the Internet and they were all booked. I looked on TripAdvisor to make sure we had not missed any Segway companies and what came up as the number one outdoor activity in Seville was the Electric Bicycle not the Segway. I called Elecmove Electric Bikes (If you are wondering, I use TripAdvisor a lot when we travel.) and they were able to fit us in. We even got the #1 rated English speaking guide, Marie! We had a blast. It was a great way to see the city and we learned a lot about the history of Seville. One of the things I really liked was that it didn’t make any difference that our fitness levels varied. There are 3 settings on the bike and you can choose how hard you want to work with the setting. The other perk of seeing Seville by bike is that there are bike paths throughout the city. The electric bikes have access to these. http://www.elecmove.com/en/ We walked through the lovely, old, cobbled streets of the historic district. It is much easier to walk or ride a bike through these streets than to drive a car through them. Jim did a wonderful job of driving through them for 3 weeks. You really have to pay attention. This is Marie our guide talking to Jim. We learned so much from her! The bikes are easier than I thought they would be. There are three speeds. You choose the one you want (or none at all) depending on how hard you want to work. There is a sensor that kicks in and helps when you start to peddle. To put it mildly, I am not very into riding bikes. Do not ask me why, I just am not. I was definitely the weakest rider of the bunch. Even I had a great time. The photo above is of the Caliph’s Castle. It is over 1000 years old. Fernando the Catholic King took Seville from the Caliph in 1248. Earthquake 1356 damaged the Caliph’s Castle and the cathedral below. Because of the Earthquake the Cathedral needed to be repaired. When it was finished in 1403 it was the world’s largest cathedral. The Pope didn’t like this so he added onto the cathedral in Rome. Then the British built St James’ Cathedral. So the Pope added on to the cathedral in Rome yet again, so that once again the cathedral in Rome would be the largest. The Pope was tired at this point of living in a dust filled place that was always under construction so he made an edict that you need the Pope’s approval to build or renovate a cathedral. In all the years since then a project to make a larger cathedral than the one in Rome has never been approved. The steel structure at the top of the bell tower below was once tethered in place. The moorings came loose and then it became a weather vane. This was a problem as it would sometimes spin wildly and frighten people that it was going to fall when the surrounding buildings were shorter. Now that it is surrounded by taller buildings it is no longer a problem as this square does not get as much wind. There were many exports from the new world pouring into Seville. Isabella made Seville the site where all goods from the new world first came to. The tobacco factory processed the tobacco being imported in. A black market started as people began growing tobacco plants in their back yard. The king and queen outlawed this and a factory was built. The queen and king were losing too much tax revenue. Women were chosen to work in the factory because it was thought they were more delicate in handling the leaves. The women began to steal tobacco. One woman in particular, named Carmine, started stealing tobacco. A book and opera were written her. This is the Plaza de Espana. It is beautiful. The Naboo scene in Star Wars is filmed there, https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mVQyW1n5ECY. The building above is called the Bathroom of ’29. It was the Guatemalan embassy built for the World Expo. People mistakenly thought it was a bathroom and used it as such. It has been abandoned since then.
This is Maria Luisa’s summer residence. Built by the queen for her sister. The tower above was built by the Moors as a watch tower. The Catholics used it as the Gold Tower. This is where they would collect gold brought from the new world. This is the gypsy quarter. The gypsies practiced magic which frightened non-gypsies so they were put in their own quarter. It is thought that it is a combination of Moorish and gypsy culture that resulted in the style of dance called flamenco. The photos below are from the show we saw at the Flamenco Museum.
Weakest rider? Yes. Coolest shoes? I think my Wonder Woman high tops speak for themselves!
Ready and waiting for flamenco. It was a great show. There was dancing, singing, and guitar playing. http://www.flamencotickets.com/museo-del-baile-flamenco-seville Look how the paint has been chipped off the floor.These two danced together.And each danced a solo. We were in the front row, a matter of going early to get your seats. It was something to watch, and the scarf and skirt brushed over our faces a few times. In between the dancers, there would be a guitar or singing solo.The Chinese wedding fad. At the a plaza de Espana, there was a wedding photo shoot taking place. Marie told us this is the new fad in China. The couple will marry 1 or 2 months before, then they will travel all over having wedding photos taken of themselves. The groom of this duo looked to be very into it. The bride looked over it. The photographers were yawning. What a strange trend.
Our Man of La Menthe, Seville, and the Flying Dutchmen
We woke up in the hostel after a very good night’s sleep. The woman we met last night was at the front desk. She was wonderfully friendly. She did not speak English, so it was all very basic Spanish from me as she explained that her son was working in London. I believe he is head of security at a clinic there. He loves London. She is very proud of him but thinks it is too bad so many young people are leaving Spain to find better jobs elsewhere. This was a refrain we heard several times on our trip. We left Hostal M. Vares with gifts. If you ever need a place to stay in Valmojado, the rooms are super clean and the owners are warm and charming! The owner gave us a lighter, pen, and a Barcelona soccer team bottle opener. Many times on this trip people insisted on giving us gifts. We have also received a satchel, wine, champagne, bracelets, necklace, bread, olive oil, a chocolate bar, chocolate covered hazelnuts, and we think we must be missing some things. We were driving for a while when I saw a castle on a hill I wanted to stop to see. Look where it is! “What is so cool about La Mancha?” Everyone else wanted to know. “You know the Man of La Mancha… No? What about Don Quixote? A hole in your education!” So I pulled Cliff Notes up on my iPad and read the e-notes version as we drove through the countryside of Castille and Toledo, http://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/d/don-quixote/book-summary. The Man of La Mancha was a musical based on the story Don Quixote, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_of_La_Mancha.
But before that… There was a castle to climb around the outside of. It was a hot day and there were very few people about in town. I did find one man who we sort of talked to. After a couple of minutes I asked if we could take a photo with him. He invited us into his courtyard to show us his canaries and gave us some sprigs of mint. The Man of La Menthe
We drove from there to Seville. In Seville we were staying at an old hotel in the historic district. Getting there was an adventure. The historic district of Seville has tight, winding streets. It was time to pull the side mirrors in again.
I noticed men at the hotel with the words “The Flying Dutchmen” on their shirts. Who are The Flying Dutchmen? I asked the person at the front desk. He didn’t know, so I stopped the next person I saw with a Flying Dutchmen t-shirt and asked. The Flying Dutchmen is the name of a company that makes documentary films and commercials using drones to film, http://www.theflyingdutchmen.com. We sat in the courtyard in the evening talking to the group. They are in Spain filming a documentary for an insurance company. We also met Mark, the subject of the documentary. All of them are from the Netherlands. Mark owns a company that buys fruit in Spain, mostly berries, freezes them and ships them to the Netherlands to sell as frozen fruit. The insurance for something like this is a big deal. The insurance company wants the documentary for promotion. We saw some of the raw footage of Seville they had filmed in the morning. I was impressed when I saw the quality of film they captured with their drone. I cannot wait to see the finished product. It was interesting to sit and discuss their creative process. I love to hear about the creative process of others! I sat next to Harmen Commandeur, @DeManMetHoed. one of the owners and the art director. He showed me a finished documentary they made and explained some of the techniques he uses when he edits a documentary. It was inspiring to hear about his path to where he is now. His path sounds similar to the one Sean is on. Harmen is an artistic person who uses the computer, graphic design, and his own creative vision to make his form of art. If we do spend a couple of months in Norway next summer (as we are thinking we will) we will have to get over to the Netherlands and look The Flying Dutchmen up! Here is a photo of The Flying Dutchmen taken with a drone. https://vimeo.com/theflyingdutchmen, I prefer the film on Vimeo but here is one from YouTube, https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCmjBi8ptC0AX0_aTsJzp0ig
After we talked to them we went to Habanita to eat. We had such a great dinner we went back again the next night.
This beautiful church was one block from the hotel. We stayed at the Hotel Casa Imperial, http://www.casaimperial.com. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g187443-d547935-Reviews-Hotel_Casa_Imperial-Seville_Province_of_Seville_Andalucia.html.
We prefer old historic hotel in the historic district.
With 10 days left in Spain, the vagabonds hit the road again. We decided to head south to see Seville and Granada for 4 days total with one day on the road to Seville. The last 5 days of the trip are still unplanned. As usual we had things to do before leaving.
We had to say good bye to the cat who was waiting outside the door to our apartment in the hope the kids bought 2 cans of tuna.
Then we had to go canyoning. That is our guide Leo. He set us up with gear which we put in the pack and carried to the Jeep-like vehicle that Leo transported us in. When Leo met Sophia, he said, “Ay, Sophia, Sophia.” With a slight difference in the normal pronunciation than we use in the States, it is almost a caress of her name. This has been happening often with Sophia’s name. Sean’s and my name are not as well liked or well pronounced. It turns out the queen of the retired King Juan Carlos, is named Sophia and she was well liked. Juan Carlos recently gave up the throne to his son because of some legal controversy involving his daughter’s business dealings.
I started to get in the back, and Leo told me to ride in the front because my Spanish was the best of the group. Oh yes! It pays to have studied hard in high school!
At about roof height for a Jeep from the road, is where floodwaters reached in 1977 when it rained steadily for 8 to 10 days. Check out how far below the road the water is on the day we canyoned.
These are photos from the road on the way to where we would canyon.
To my knowledge, I had never heard of canyoning before the day we walked into Aventura Raid Sarratillo office in Ainsa. Canyoning entails hiking, swimming, jumping, rappelling, diving, and floating. There were several options available as to canyons Leo could take us down. The canyon we were taken down took about 2 hours to go down. We traveled about 1 km an hour. They chose this canyon for us because it was one of the most beautiful, and there were so many options at each spot. You could choose from a high jump, medium jump, low jump, or to climb down. You could even do a back flip (Sean) if you wanted. Did I forget to mention we climbed under a couple of waterfalls, through little keyhole slots with water flowing through them, and through a small cave. Sophia and I did not rappel down btw. We had Leo lower us on the rope. It looked so far down! I really am not a fan of heights. It was no big deal though. Leo was a fantastic guide. Javier told us he was sending us with someone special and he was right! Poor Leo, he probably would have liked to jump, but if I wanted to climb down, he climbed down with me. Do I sound like the biggest wimp ever, LOL. I wasn’t that bad. It was awesome. Exciting, beautiful, and fun all at the same time!
The packs we are each carrying have a wetsuit complete with the hood, helmets, water, and a wetsuit jacket in them. We were high in altitude and the water was COLD! (FYI, most European women we have seen on the beaches in Spain do not wear one piece bathing suits. If I lived in Europe I might have to ditch my grandma suit! Here even great grandmas are in bikinis!)
Canyoning is so much fun!
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The scenery was beautiful.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Leo was a superb guide. There he is on the left.
When we got back to Ainsa we were hungry. This was a problem because it was siesta time. Everywhere we went, including the South of France, closed up for 2 to 3 hours in the middle of the day. This includes grocery stores or supermercatos as they are called no matter what size they are. Most places stay open much later at night though. It is easier than you think it would be to get used to. Sunday is another story… Just kidding, but Sunday also most stores close up. Again it is just a matter of paying attention, then you start to get used to it.
We found something very basic to eat and drove for one last time to La Cucuirala. Javier and his wife had finished washing our clothes. We needed to pick them up and say goodbye. I told Javier how beautiful the craftmanship of his units are and how comfortable they are too. He told us he built them with some help from a group of men he flew to Spain from Bolivia. He was glad we appreciated his units because when he built them his goal was too make them so comfortable that he would want to stay in them. It really showed! His next project is to build a remote Hobbit House in the woods! (I might have to come back to Spain just to stay there. I mean seriously a Hobbit House!!!! I want to stay in a Hobbit House!!!!!) Here is a link to La Cicuarala, http://www.lacicuarala.com/www.lacicuarala.com/WELCOME.html. Who knows when you stay there maybe the Hobbit House will be finished!
When we left we drove south for hours. Our goal was Seville the next day. Jim is a monster when it comes to driving long distances. He is the only one of us with an international drivers license, but he is a control freak about driving so I just let him do all of it anyway. We were unprepared for what it would be like on a main thoroughfare in Spain designed to get you from point a to point b. In the states every exit would have some amenities, and many of them would have hotels. On these types of highways in Spain, amenities and hotels are few and far between each other. We were south of Madrid at about 11 p.m. (23:00) when we began looking for something. There was nothing for miles. The first place we found at about 23:30 had no rooms. Finally we found a hostel to stay in. We had never stayed in a hostel before. It was pretty great actually. We loved the family who ran it! We rented a girl’s room and a boy’s room. Sophia is much quieter than Jim or Sean. Lucky me.
We want to go white water kayaking in hard kayaks! At least that is what 2 of us said. The other two did not. That was okay, clothes must be washed when you are on the road for 3 weeks. Sophia and I hung clothes out to dry (Javier’s wife washed them) and the guys had so much fun kayaking. They kayaked from the same place we rafted just not as far down. The second part of the rafting was white water rafting. We were told it was only for more experienced kayakers. The guys had the same guide to Mimo. Mimo told me the day before, he showed up for a rafting trip near his home in Italy many years back, fell in love with it and never went back. He hired on with a rafting company at the end of the float. http://www.sarratillo.com
Jim on white water kayaking:
It was difficult to get the hang of it. I flipped and came out of the boat once. When that happens, as a beginner, you hang on to the boat and paddle and work to get to the edge so you can empty the water out, get back in, and do get further down the river. In flat water, it was relatively easy. In rapids, it was more thrilling but a lot harder. It is scary in the rapids, because you are afraid you are going to lose it and flip. I do not believe they would have allowed us to do this in the states without some more practice in flat water first, but that is why we did it here! Our guide certainly earned his money that day.
Sean on white water kayaking:
It is the best sport ever. It was so much fun! It is challenging and rewarding. It really gets the adrenaline pumping. It is like you are one with the river. You have a certain amount of control, but the rest of the control is with the river. If it wants to take you somewhere, it does. If you are really good you have some more control, but the river has the main control. I was less nervous when I first started than when I was further along. I flipped twice. After the first flip, I figured out why I was flipping and then I was more confident and did not have to worry about flipping again. I flipped in an easy part getting into an eddy. I didn’t flip in any of the more challenging section. When I did flip the second time I floated a bit down the river to where our guide and instructor had my boat. That was really fun too.
When Jim and Sean got back we all hiked to a swimming hole Javier told us about. “The water comes from rain water not snow melt,” he told us. It was a lot warmer than the water we rafted and kayaked in. We all wore wet suits for those activities. It was sunny though. If we ever went back it would be with water shoes! It was a locals’ secret, and there were plenty of people there. We looked like the only tourists though. That sort of insiders info is one of the perks of staying at someone’s house instead of a hotel.
We ate and drove back to La Cicuarala. On the way back we stopped at the nearby little hamlet at the top near where Javier’s house is. There was a church I wanted to see closer that I had been looking at as we drove by. Guaso stands on the top of a tall hill/mountain also called Guaso. It is a 15 minute walk from Javier’s or a short drive. The church was built in the 12th century. It is typical to see this mix of small villages/hamlets with antique architecture in the hills as you drive through this area.
Unexpectedly we found this plaque. You might not think it is strange to find a plaque with an English translation in the middle of a remote hill, but it is. Most of the signage outside of big cities and towns does not have signage in English. Actually It was unexpected to find a sign at all. This is not a well traveled path.
These are called the Aragonese Pyrenees and Pre-pyrenees. Much of this area is a national park. We even met some park rangers. We saw Eagles flying and a fox near Javier’s. There is much to do in this area. There are water sports, hiking, biking, and fishing. There are also Nordic sports in the winter. When you drive through this area the different geological features are very noticeable. There has obviously been a great deal of uplift as evidenced by layers of rock that are almost vertical. There are also horizontal layers with other layers cut through these. We would learn from a Spanish geologist we met in Seville some days later that this is an area where geology students at universities in Spain come to do their field work.
The first time I saw an old stair case like this one it was in an ancient Incan settlement at Moray, Peru. http://www.amusingplanet.com/2013/03/the-mysterious-moray-agricultural.html
We drove a little further to check out the hamlet of La Torrecilla.
Javier’s family has a cat. It cries when it sees you. Sean and Sophia bought a can of tuna in town to feed the cat. The cat fell in LOVE! with them!
River Rafting in the Pyrenees and an Amazing Dinner
When you travel for an extended period everyone has a low energy moment. Today was my turn. I woke up feeling exhausted. I am usually the most up of the group, but not this morning. Luckily Jim, Sean, and Sophia realized what was going on and got me laughing and moving around in no time.
They were all excited about the day’s adventure. “Mom get up and let’s raft!” We booked a raft trip with Adventura Raid Sarratillo, www.sarratillo.com, 974-500-725. Javier was booking guided trips. His english was great. (Isn’t it sad how important that was for us.) We booked the trip in Ainsa and drove to Campo to raft. The four of us were in one raft with our Italian guide Mimo. Mimo admitted to Sophia and me that the Spanish cannot seem to make a good Italian red sauce. For some reason it tastes like Campbell’s tomato soup on pasta ;P. With all the high quality vegetables in this country I don’t get it. The red sauce they make could not taste good to anyone older than 5.
Rafting was fun. It was a nice mix of tranquil, work, and excitement. There were quiet stretches and white water rowing and floating.
When traveling, like this, we have learned that everyone appreciates the historical, cultural side of things more if we break it up with something different in the middle. When we walked in to the guide shop and Sean saw all the options he wanted to do it all! We limited him to three. It was a family decision what those would be, with Sophia and I opting out of the next days kayaking.
When we returned to Ainsa, we moved to an apartment Javier rents. Javier built two apartments at his house in the small (very small) mountain hamlet of Guaso, about 15 minutes outside of Ainsa, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guaso. Many people in this area have apartments or rooms for rent. Our decision to break things up resulted in our staying at an apartment in the mountains and not the historic town of Ainsa. We were very happy with our choice. Javier calls his house La Cicuarala, http://www.lacicuarala.com/www.lacicuarala.com/Bienvenida.html. It had the most comfortable beds of the entire trip. La Cicuarala is off the grid. It was nice to stay in a house in the mountains Once again we found a spot that was warm and welcoming. A place that felt representative of an aspect of the area where we were staying. In Barcelona, we stayed in and apartment in the city. In Girona, Casa Cundaro was like stepping back in time. At the Abbaye de Capservy was a respite in the French Countryside. At La Cicuarala, we stayed in a mountain aerie like many of the inhabitants of this region. Guaso is up in the mountains overlooking a valley and across at a series of peaks.
We asked Javier for a restaurant recommendation. He called the restaurant, explained we wanted dinner sin carne, and that we were American. We went into the town of Ainsa to Restaurate Callizo, http://www.viamichelin.es/web/Restaurante/Ainsa-22330-Callizo-217208-41102. When we arrived we were greeted and then passed off to a waiter who was a native of Great Britain now living in Spain.
When they started making this Sean and Sophia said, “This is so super cool!”
The meal and experience of dining at Restaurante Callizo is unique. (I must apologize about the dearth of photos. I left my camera at the apartment, and no one else is good about taking photos.) While we were deciding between the Land menu or the Stone menu, we were served a small cocktail made with dry ice served in a cucumber. We were then told we had to choose Land because we did not want meat. The chef was adapting the Land menu to prepare a special meal with no meat for us. Once we chose between these two options there were 4 courses that we had no choice over what we were served. The entire table all needs to choose the same of one of these two. Sean and Jim decided to eat meat, so they chose a meat item for the 5th course and a dessert item for the 6th course. The artistry and creativity of the presentation of the dishes can only be truely appreciated by experiencing them. Here are a few photos of what was served. At the very end a case about the size of a small antique suitcase is brought out. It contains a sweet after dinner drink and little deep fried cake balls with melted chocolate in the center. This meal involves your sense of taste, sight, smell, and hearing. If you have the opportunity, I recommend you try this one of a kind dining experience.
These delicious olives were served 1 to each of us, hanging from the branches of bonsai trees.
These are spun sugar over goat cheese with strawberries lightly around the goat cheese. They are designed to look like parasitic catapillar balls that you see in trees around here. Once the trees get these on them, it kills the tree.
The salad served to Sophia and me. They have the best asparagus in Spain. There was a salsa, saffron, and seaweed salad.
We were too busy eating to take any more photos. Sophia and I had tempura vegetables for our main course and fresh fruit for dessert. Sean and Jim had an entree they loved and with a caramel something for dessert.
The old city of Ainsa is a lovely small historic town set on a hill. It over looks the small modern town of Ainsa, http://www.villadeainsa.com. It is different from Girona, in that it does not feel like it is full of full time inhabitants. It is different than Carcassonne, in that it feels quieter do more accessible. They are all so different a comparison is not fair.
Today we visited Carcassonne. It was lovely! Like many of the places we have visited, there were almost no people. We have been told most Spanish and French people vacation in July and August.
Check out my new Dali t-shirt. It was hot and sunny walking the wall!
We walked around the outer walls with Sean hanging off of many of them! This was free of charge. There are still some structures dated to Roman time, but much of the castle has been restored or is being restored. In the 19th century, the city was restored to its medieval appearance.
I could have had a child who walks on the path instead I got a wall climber. Check out how far down it is! It does not have the same feel as Girona. If you want to feel like you are in an excellent restoration of the real thing, Carcassonne is great. If you want to feel like you are in the real thing Girona is better. Actually they were both very different, and it isn’t fair to compare one to the other. They are close and both are worth the visit. The old town of Girona still has people in it, but there is nothing in it as imposing and impressive as the castle Of Carcassonne.
After walking around the outside we ate and then paid to walk around the inner castle. There were more people here. Including a school group of teens all dancing in unison to a pop tune. I taped it, but with the Internet service I am getting I cannot post it.
We could have stayed inside Carcassonne, and for some people that would be their optimum choice. It was hot and touristy though. We all agreed, we preferred the Abbaye du Capservy. It was about 25 minutes away through the lovely French countryside, http://www.abbayedecapservy.com/en/.
Today Sean had us laughing. One of the things that differs from one country to the next are bathrooms and toilets. Sean went into a bathroom that locked on its own when you went in. It did not unlock until you washed your hands. Once you were out it completely disinfected itself. Sean was freaking out that it might lock with him in it.
This evening Odile made reservations for us in a restaurant in the small picturesque town of St Denis. We had the best pomme frites ever, a dish I do not usually like much. They were crisp on the outside and light & flakey on the inside. Then we treated ourselves to dessert. Every dessert including the citron sorbet was handmade by the owner. I was told this is called fait maison. Yum!
Leaving Girona for the Abbaye de Capservy, South of France
Before we left Girona we had to take one more walk on the wall. Again there was no one on it.
I am sitting on an old fashioned toilet. It would be an interesting feel to bare it all and go to the bathroom like this, LOL!
Did I remember to post the link to Casa Cundaro? Here it is in case I didn’t. http://www.casacundaro.com/english.html Casa Cundaro is attached to the Historic Hotel. Where we had to have one last superb breakfast.
Look how narrow the streets of Girona’s old town are! I got out to take this picture of our car.
Before leaving we visited the Jewish museum in Girona. We learned so much there. For instance, I did not realize many Jews converted instead of leaving. If they left they were essentially abandoning their material wealth. They did convert, but they did not always stop practicing their old ways. They also kept their relationships with those who did not convert. The museum has a large collection of gravestones. When Judaism was outlawed in Spain, the Jewish gravestones were removed. Many of these have since been unearthed as they have restored old buildings in Girona.
It was in the face of mass conversions without changes in religious practices that the inquisition took place. The Catholic Church wanted to make it prohibitive to live in Catholic countries if you were a practicing Jew. This did cause most people to become more obedient in practicing the Catholic faith. I have included a series of text panels from the museum with the photos.
That is a man I wish I could sit and speak with! Asking him so many questions 😉
Thinking of you, my dear friend Michelle! We wish you were here with us!
There are Roman ruins in the museum too.
We had one last stop to make. Sophia and I needed a cup of the best tea of the trip. http://www.teashop.eu/en/tea-shop-girona/
We decided to follow a circuitous path to France by driving to Collioure, France. We chose this route because it was the path of the Jewish diaspora from Girona in 1492. Since most people converted there was not a large number of people who left. It seems like a pattern. The Catholic Church converted the rulers, and the rulers forced people to convert or leave. Americans are most familiar with the treatment of people of the Jewish faith and the decimation or forced conversion of Native Americans. Interesting to me is that the most tolerant people, as a whole, of any country we have visited is the predominantly polytheistic people of India. Don’t you wish you could go back in time and see all the different cultures and people before the Romans conquered so many and before mass religions took hold? 1 month ago there was a threat to the Jewish museum in Girona so they now have guards posted at it permanently.
I LOVE history. I would like to go back to the time of the dinosaurs too! The only problem with that is, I would probably get eaten right away! When you drive through Europe you see castles on hilltops all the time. #AmericansLoveCastles
We drove to France along a narrow, twisting road. There were grape vines on the hillside and cyclists on the road. Shortly after passing the border into France, we came to the top of a pass and there was a wine stand with people tasting wine. LOL, that would not fly in the U.S. It was a windy road out of the Spanish town of Cerbere. When he saw it, Sean said, “That is the most French thing ever!”
When the Jews fleeing Spain got to Collioure they must have thought it would be wonderful to live in such a beautiful place. A couple of years later the French King told the Jews to convert or leave Collioure, so it was not to be.
We were headed to the Abbaye de Capservy. Our reason for driving to the south of France was to visit the restored castle of Carcasonne. Although we wanted to visit the castle, this time we chose to stay in an old abbey. http://www.abbayedecapservy.com/en/
When we arrived we were greeted by Odile and the 2 dogs in residence. Odile was making a special vegan meal just for us. The dinner consisted of a mound of rice, surrounded with smaller mounds of beans and various vegetable sides. French bread was also served, of course! The dessert was fresh fruit in a lemon agar jelly with elderberry. Days later we were still talking about the lovely abbey, the dinner (it was one of the best of the trip), and the wonderful hospitality of Odile. If you go be sure and have Odile make dinner for you. You will not regret it. You also get Lulu’s delicious wine and Odile’s conversation. Odile has two daughters who are both living in London. We met several people on this trip whose adult children are in London working because of a lack of jobs in their area. One of Odile’s daughters works in a castle as a tour guide. She loves it. While we were at the Abbaye, Odile’s daughter was interviewed on the radio about the castle and its history. I must email Odile and get the name of the castle!
The Abbaye de Capservy has the main building where we stayed, a smaller house behind, and another house where another couple lives. Across from the Abbaye are fields of grapes.
Odile, our wonderful host. I love to look in people’s kitchens.
On the long driveway leading to the Abbaye, Sean put his hand out the window into stinging nettles. The Abbaye has a pool, Sean recovered by going for a swim. Unfortunately he popped the peace donut!
The kids wanted to taste French wine in France.
We stayed in a family room at the top of the Abbaye. The ceilings were short which for us adds to the charm. There were rooms with higher ceilings, but we preferred this one!