Planes, Trains and a Citroen

IMG_1587Some people are fearless.

Two of them were on our flight home from Spain — a young couple shlepping a baby and a cat. Made me feel like such an underachiever, what with my three teenagers in tow who can all walk and carry their own stuff and mostly feed themselves. My husband and I waited many, many, many years to travel overseas with them. Heck, we waited a lot of years before we even traveled beyond state lines with them.

When I had babies and toddlers, I didn’t even want to travel 3.7 miles to Target in a minivan. I have always marveled at the people who camped in nature without running water or braved airport security lines with their young offspring, let alone visited another country. But, my kids are growing up. The opportunities for forced togetherness* are fading quickly, like my patience and natural hair color. Cheap airfare was the perfect incentive/excuse to stuff some backpacks and go to Spain.

So, how was it?

Mostly fun.

It was two weeks in a foreign country, and Americans aren’t especially popular these days. I would like to blame our occasional poor treatment on our president rather than any off-putting behavior by us, but who knows? Never underestimate the power of cultural differences…. and 13-year-olds who introduce annoying American customs like water-bottle flipping.

Old world history, ornate cathedrals and priceless art were lost on two-thirds of the kids, but it was good for them to discover bidets and to experience what it’s like to be an outsider. And, since we live a very auto-centric lifestyle in the States, it was a great change of pace to explore Spain’s cities up close on foot, even though it resulted in some serious blood blisters that now are as much a part of me as my tweaked back and nearsighted eyes and so I named them: Eustace, Saul and Dylan S.

We had fun zipping around Barcelona on Segways and sticking our toes in a too-cold Mediterranean Sea and gazing at the awe-inspiring La Sangria Familia, as No. 2 called it. The guidebooks called the massive cathedral La Sagrada Familia. But, her mispronunciation does, ahem, give some insight to her family life.

But that’s not what you want to hear. You want the nasty stuff. Those cringe-y moments like you see in movies that make you grimace and snort-laugh at the hapless protagonists. Oh, there was plenty of that. Buckle up.

So, we’re making the five-and-a-half hour drive from Seville to Valencia in a rented Citroen that — to my husband’s delight — allowed you to connect your iPhone to the car. Ta da! No more incomprehensible Spanish radio for us. We now had access to our Spotify playlists! Although the steady soundtrack from the middle of the backseat, where three teens sat wedged tight like tourists gawking at an important landmark, was “Are we there yet? I don’t like this car.”

Truth be told, we could have been driving from Tucson to Los Angeles, the rugged terrain looked that eerily familiar. Highway driving is pretty smooth in Spain. It’s the cities that get ya. So, I already mentioned it was a nearly six-hour drive, right? With a kid who was not so keen with her position in the car and in life? After all that serene countryside highway, we’re all of a sudden in Valencia, smack in the middle of a choked mass of honking cars and swerving scooters and drivers who feel like they have waited long enough for a green light and so even though it’s still red, they’re going to go ahead and gun it through the intersection. Now, I happen to be married to someone who is very well suited to insane European driving (i.e., he goes very fast and makes what I would consider questionable lane changes). Even he was frazzled. Complicating matters was that street signs were nonexistent. And then there was Map Quest. Oh, Map Quest. That robotic voice, with worse Spanish pronunciation than any of us, kept sending us down an exceedingly narrow alleyway marked for pedestrians only. My husband would circle around and come back a different street, thinking we’d get rerouted only to have Siri give the exact same instructions that we all knew would end up with our gray Citroen stuck between buildings, a clear breach of the rental contract.

Oh, and meanwhile, from the back seat, “I’m trying to be flexible, but I am really tired of being in this car.”

I was frantically texting with the owner of our rented apartment, telling him we were trying our best and almost there but we were having some serious issues. Tensions were rising, phone batteries were dying, the clock was ticking — we had to check in before 9 p.m. or risk a 30 Euro penalty. It was 8:59 p.m.

That was stressful. Almost as stressful as the tail-end of our trip, after a harrowing hour in which we thought No. 2’s most prized possession in the whole wide world, her cell phone, had been left at the bus station. It was an unpleasant scene on that super quiet tour bus as our child loudly insisted that we could go back after it. We expressed our sadness and dismay at the tremendous loss and explained how, yeah, this sure sucks but there’s not much we can do about it. Her father tried to lock the phone and then put a screen message on it to contact his number if it was found. Next step, try to zero in on the lost lifeline. The high-pitched pinging from under No. 2’s bus seat showed that it wasn’t really lost after all. The stranger sitting in the aisle seat smirked at me and raised his eyebrows. Crisis averted.

And then, immediately after that, after nearly two weeks of nonstop togetherness and only frayed nerve between the five of us, we were schlepping our backpacks — which weighed as much as a very well-fed American toddler — in cold, drizzly weather and in the complete opposite direction of our actual destination. We were headed to the train station with the hope that we could store those burdensome packs only to discover nope, you cannot do that. We blew our last 40-some Euros at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, not to drink in the contemporary art, which was pretty weird and offputting**, but so that we could unburden ourselves of those backpacks for even just an hour or two.

I might have had two sangrias that night. Sangria Familia indeed.


*good band name

**my opinion

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