Summer: done

We moved fairly quickly after Seville, having only one night in four different towns as we – perhaps foolishly – started moving north for the winter. The towns were chosen based on convenience for our trip (we didn’t want to drive too far each day but we also didn’t want to stay in places that we either too large to discover or too small to feel busy), and as such we embarked on something of a holiday lucky dip.

Happily for us, the first of the last stops was a surprising stunner: Salamanca.

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A university town, Salamanca is a town built in – and at times it looks like carved from – sandstone. We spied it in the distance long before we arrived; a town barely discernible from the lightly coloured rocky terrain (erm, that sandstone?!) around it other than its ornate peaks rising into the sky. As we approached, the city’s walls were visible: ancient Roman fortifications that, along with the river, have been turned into an enormous green space for the town. We made our way to the car-free old town where we wandered the streets and climbed the bell tower and soaked in the wonderful atmosphere.

As the kids were exhausted from a long day, we took them for their daily holiday ice cream in the magnificent town square (yup, we’ve become those parents) and then tucked them into bed. I stayed and held the fort while Tim hit the town and did what he does best: drink whiskey (actually, take photos. But you’d best believe he stopped for a treat for himself along the way).

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The next stop en route home: Pamplona. Another city chosen for convenience, we were again pleasantly surprised (but not wowed like Salamanca). We stayed in an attic apartment at the top of the old town, and our very helpful host directed us to local treats: the chocolate pastries from the bakery next door, a bar built into the city walls with stunning views across the nearby sprawling hills, and a pinchos bar where we ate tiny Spanish snacks to finish off the night. We were about a month later than the town’s famous bull-running, but it was easy to imagine the mayhem that would occur through the streets.

Our own running continued. Toulouse, known as the pink city due to the terracotta used to build the old town, was our next stop. The adults enjoyed a wonderful dinner and would have liked to spend more time checking the town out, but the allure of the swimming pool in our hotel was too much for the smaller people. Our final stay was in Valance – the French Valencia – which felt like it rounded out the trip nicely.

As we drove northwards it felt we were leaving the summer behind us. Temperatures began dropping, and by the time we hit Toulouse the leaves on the trees lining the pink canals had started to turn. Our final day’s drive – from Valence back to Luzern – was filled with gloomy skies and rain: autumn had arrived while we had been gone.

The last week since we’ve been home has been one of small adjustments and tweaks. Addie has started the new school year with an increase in her activities: four days of kita and playgroup, including her favourite weekly forest visit. Swimming season is definitely over although we managed an optimistic chilly dip a few days ago, conscious the entire time that it was likely our last until next year. Luscious summer fruit is long eaten and the apples and pears have arrived in force, as have the pumpkins (much to our girl’s delight. She ate four – FOUR! – bowls of Golden Soup the other night and promptly asked for it the next morning for breakfast). The mornings are grey and chilly and the afternoons have the rich glow of a tired sun. I love Autumn, and I love the indulgent melancholy of seasonal change (and I, like my daughter, love pumpkin soup) but somehow it seems hard to embrace it. We had a magnificent summer – my favourite yet – and I guess I’m not quite ready to let it go. Then again, the lake was bloody freezing, so maybe I’ll just make a hot chocolate and be done with summer after all.

Summer: Seville.

We arrived in sweltering Seville just before lunch (our lunch, not the Spanish lunch, which I have yet to properly understand. We seem to be either too early or too late, but that’s also the perfect summary of mine and Tim’s personalities, so there we are). We had about 24 hours in the city so wanted to make the most of it, which for us means wandering, eating, and looking at lizards or other small spottable creatures. Our pickle was that we were somewhat frazzled post travel and the idea of walking around town in near 40 degree heat was rather unpalatable. Enter: horse and cart.

(We opted to take this for a few reasons. The primary one was that once they saw it, the kids were super keen. The other was we were super lazy and didn’t want to confront the heat. After about two minutes I felt dreadful. The horse was managing the heat and all of us for the better part of an hour in peak siesta time. My consolation was that we stopped regularly, and I saw the driver pause and give him water on several occasions as well as a full hose down when we finished. Still: thank you, noble steed. Also, my son is now your number one fan (he waves at all the horse-and-carts now, garbage men forgotten)  my lass thinks she’s a princess.

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Walking or trotting, Seville is a treat. The fourth largest city in Spain, it has the hustle and bustle you’d expect from an urban hub, coupled with slow pace that we’re starting to appreciate from the Spanish, in one of their hottest cities. A contradiction, sure, but one you feel as you plod along the streets which seem to move just as quickly as the charming chattery Spanish language around you. We spent a lot of time wandering the shaded narrow alleys, tripping over stones and getting pleasantly lost as we searched for ice creams and parks and each other (we got separated sans technology and had to revert to old school meet up principles).

Now we’re back on the road, we’re reverted to the one place / one meal approach to travelling. In Seville, the one place was a mighty one: the Alcázar. I’d been to the beautiful palace before, but as is apparently thematic on this holiday I barely remembered any of it. The site it stands on has been occupied since 800BC: it’s been used for the military, numerous churches, as a stable and warehouses and eventually a palace. It is now an extraordinarily well preserved example of Moorish architecture, and is the oldest occupied palace in Europe as well as a UNESCO site due to its garden’s diversity.

Enough of the blurb: the Alcázar speaks for itself.

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The palace and its surrounding grounds are enormous. There is room after perfectly tiled room, hidden courtyards, cool nooks in which one can get lost, and impeccably manicured gardens. If it wasn’t for a pressing agenda and two not entirely relaxed children, we could have spent weeks exploring it. As it was, we settled for goldfish spotting in the ponds, and cheesy family snaps.

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And, of course, splashing in any available fountain.

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At one point – one loses track of time in such a place – the kids and I found ourselves in a long, cool room hung with tapestries and tiled with hand-painted folklore. Despite the fact that I might look cranky, we were actually discussing what the lion slash dragon situation was.

To the delight of our almost-over-it kids, the immense gardens featured a maze. Our Addie led the way, while I carried a less than enthusiastic Ted in her wake.

The last time I was in Seville, the oranges were at peak ripeness. I remember sitting at a bar on the river and having them plonk heavily next to me as they fell off the trees, their almost cloying scent catching us unawares. This time of year, they are just forming: bursting their glossy roundness against the green leaves, everywhere you look across the city.

We had places to be and phone conferences to call into, so our visit was shorter than we’d ideally have liked. On our way out of the sweet city, we stopped for a much anticipated treat: churros. Tim and I had regaled the children with tales of amazing straight doughnuts that could actually be dunked into – gasp – warm chocolate. Thankfully – like on every other measure – Seville delivered.

Still. more. summer.

We spent just over a week in our little Spanish hilltop town, and it proved to be an excellent base for exploring the surrounding Andalusian area. Because I am geographically ignorant, I thought this included the nearby Gibraltar. For once I was correct about proximity, but as usual there was a flaw in my thinking: Gibraltar is part of the United Kingdom and not Andalusia, a fact which apparently everyone other than me is aware of. We went with one purpose only: to go up the rock and see the shores of Africa (OK, we actually had two goals: to also buy super cheap booze).

Gibraltar is small – only 6.2 square kms – and as we approached we were surprised and a little confused by the large fence that separates it from Spain. We parked the car, grabbed our passports, and walked across the border. It was quite surreal. I can’t think of another occasion that I’ve crossed a land border on foot and had my documents inspected. The British overseas territory is not, I am sorry to report, a particularly pleasant place. Lots of high rise apartments cram the 35,000 inhabitants into the small territory limits. While there were a few ostentatious mansions on the water (adjacent to the Ludicrously Large Yacht Parking) most places were shabby and run down. There was an airstrip immediately inside the border, which commuters strolled across. Apparently online gaming is a huge industry there, and whether imagined or not we felt the place was slightly seedy. We made our way promptly to the (Swiss manufactured, naturally) cable care and ascended the rock, much to the delight of our lad who loves any form of transportation. (As a tip, if you ever go: walk up the rock instead of cable car. Even though it was hot, if we left early the walk would have been manageable and far more enjoyable than the six minute trip up. It appeared mostly shaded and would have offered a far more interesting perspective to the area.)

It was a stunningly clear day, and from the top of the rock we were able to see across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco, rising out of the water (it’s on the far left below, in case all blue-grey landmasses look the same to you. They sure do to me).

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The top of the rock is also home to the only wild population of Barbary macaques in Europe. I was horrified to learn this as I am a scaredycat joyless person who hates our adorable monkey cousins. My daughter, however, is not. She was besotted with them, and when I asked her what she liked about them she replied ‘their hair. They’re so hairy!’. My revolted point precisely, Ads.

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After a stop for said cheap booze we bizarrely walked straight back over the border. The Spanish side had passport control but the two immigration officers didn’t bother opening the gates and simply waved us all through a door out the side. Hola!

Next stop: the beach. We went to Estapona for the afternoon to swim in the Mediterranean, build sandcastles, eat seafood tapas and see if the kids love the ocean as much as their papa. (Verdict: most definitely.)

The days have become a bit blurry, like all holidays should, and I’d like that to be my excuse for not exactly remembering that it was our ten year anniversary last Thursday (in my defence, I knew it was coming up but I had confused the days, a completely understandable position after a decade, no?). We spent the day in Ronda, a mountain town at the top of a very winding drive. We finally arrived and entered through the town wall…

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…and immediately indulged in ten year anniversary pastries. (At least, the two best products of our relationship did.)

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Ronda is a very famous town in the region. Built high in the hills, it straddles a ravine and the two halves of the town were long divided. In the 1700s, the Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) was built to, ahem, bridge them. It’s an impressive sight. Each of the old towns is lovely in its own right, and the bridge adds a drama to the whole scene. Stunning architecture aside, there’s a waterfall at the base that gushes down into the calm river which snakes its way through the chasm. The bridge itself could be walked over, under and into: it used to be a prison, particularly during the Spanish Civil War. It was impossible to see it all in one hit – every different angle held new aspects.

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Ronda is also the city in which, 300 years ago, the official rules to bullfighting were negotiated and agreed. Many years ago, on a holiday to Seville, I went to see the traditional Spanish sport. It was not for me; I was unable to watch it and left shortly after it started. I appreciate the complexities of tradition and the arguments around the life spans of bulls (apparently fighters often live much longer than animals bred for meat), but despite being a meat eater, leather wearer and all round hypocrite, I felt it was a step too far in terms of the animal’s welfare. I was however (see: hypocrite) quite happy to check out the bullfighting arena where it all began, so to speak.

We celebrated our decade with a spectacular lunch. In a courtyard at the base of the town, with a playground within eyesight and ice-cold vermouth being refilled regularly, we toasted the years together. And then brat number two ate our dessert (flan, with almost burnt caramel, with a heavy dollop of cool yoghurt around it. So good, or so I’ve heard).

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A million years ago, on a previous trip to southern Spain, I spent a day? a few days? a week? in a beachside town that had something to do with tuna. The modern age of the internet, and a memory that is determined to connect some dots, located it as Zahara de los Atunes, a seaside fishing village on the way to Cadiz (this is relevant as it was a key part of the puzzle; on the same trip I visited the Cadiz fortress). Since we were so close, we did another day trip – this time through the nearby national park – to visit it.

Jimena is surrounded by the enormous Los Alcornocales National Park. It’s the only remaining natural cork forest in Europe, and a hugely significant ecological area both for historical reasons but also for controlled modern industry. The cork trees are still farmed – the sport the weird look of a tree undercut, as the bark at the base is removed while that on the top remains. The base bark is then left to dry in huge fields in the sun before it is used. The park is also home to many native animals – I saw a Spanish ibex while out running one morning* – and birds. As we drove to the beach, we saw an amazing flock of eagles circling, darting and dancing in a huge vortex. We stopped the car and got out to watch them, having never seen a sight like it. It was mesmerising, magical.

* disclosure: I literally ran the one morning. And I only ran a tiny bit. Those hills! That heat! Ridiculous.

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We arrived at the beach I’d stayed at and I found that the town was completely unfamiliar. Admittedly, it was 18 years ago I was there and at the time it was tiny, and it was in the opposite season (winter in southern Spain is heavenly, by the way), and I think I actually stayed at the opposite end of town. I remember a sleepy mostly-closed village, where we had to ask the local restaurant to open in advance if we wanted a meal. Now, in the height of summer, it was an unrecognisable bustling beach haven. Once we hit the beach I remembered the curve of the land – or at least I’m going to tell myself I did.

The beach was lovely. The children were maniacs, running in and out of the waves, playing ball and building sand ditches (not having quite mastered castles). Addie, who gets cold quite quickly (especially after her father dunks her head first into the ocean) ran and interrupted my sunbaking by asking for a cuddle. Happily obliging her, we sat quietly for a while and she murmured into my ear ‘Mama, your arms are as warm as the sun’. I died happy, folks.

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Our final excursion was to the southern most tip of mainland Europe: Tarifa. Or at least, it would have been had we been able find a bloody car park there. A dreadlocked mayhem that sort of reminded me of south east Asia, the town was crazy busy and we found it almost impossible to get to the tip of the country. So, four cranky people cut their losses and went to nearby Bolonia, where we pulled up near some Roman ruins (those dudes were everywhere, man) and had our last dip in the Med for a while. Unfortunately the wind was whip strong, and despite using child labour to weight all our possessions it wasn’t the most pleasant of days and we called it not long afterwards.

The rest of the week was spent pottering (me), reading (me), dipping in the pool (me), playing in cubby houses (not me…OK, sometimes me), lazily walking to lunch (me), getting up super early to take lovely snaps of the village at sunrise (are you kidding I am not insane. That was totally Tim, as evidenced below).

We all had our favourite pastimes, but the person who had the most cherished ritual of all was our Ted. Every morning around 8.30 the garbage men would drive up our street, noisily clanging and clattering. Our little man, waiting after his breakfast, would jump up, gasp, and run to the window where he would wave at them as long as they were in sight. After the first few days, they started waving at the top of the street and similarly didn’t stop until they turned the corner. This morning, he even earned himself a few toots of the horn. A happier holidayer there has never been.

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Summer, continued.

I’m sitting in a whitewashed Spanish casa, in a tiny town made of confusing and exhaustingly steep streets, perched on the side of a hill. It is about a million degrees; shade makes no difference. The male half of the family is taking a siesta (both having done a bit too much fiesta-ing last night) and Addie is off chit-chatting to herself, primarily about how long it will be before she will have another swim and whether or not she will put her whole head underwater (currently: not, but maybe tomorrow).

When planning this, our summer holiday proper, we didn’t realise how heavenly the season in Switzerland would be. It felt like we’d already had a solid summer before we even left home. Apparently it is the year of double the fun for us, as last Thursday we barrelled into the car to drive over 2000km to get here (not in one hit. We’re clearly a bit idiotic but not that crazy).

Our first stop, for convenience and to get a few miles under our belt, was Chambéry in France, not far from the Swiss border. Given the road trip was going to be intense, we decided to hold off on sightseeing until we reached our final destination. We figured we’d aim for one sight and one (hopefully decent) meal at each stop en route and not put too much pressure on ourselves to do much else. At Chambéry, this equated to a delicious Lyonnaise-style meal and a visit to the Fontaine des Éléphants. A tribute to a local military hero returning from a campaign to India, the fountain is locally know as ‘the four arseless’ as the pachyderms are lacking their rear quarters.

Unfortunately our excellently located AirBnB was also weird, hot and mozzie ridden, so we departed absurdly early the next morning. Perhaps it was for the best as it was our longest driving leg, down the coast of France and Spain to Valencia. Due to our pre-dawn departure we arrived in time to check off our Valencia activity: Turia Park. We hired bikes and cycled around the former river turned massive green space. The kids, who had done amazingly well on the ten hour drive, were indulged in their every request for parks and splashing in any available water. (Our meal here: seafood tapas. Hurrah for no longer being land locked!)

Our final day of transit – coincidentally my driving leg – was also the most spectacular scenery wise. We made our way from Valencia to the town I’m now sweltering in, Jimena de la Frontera. The route was made of wide brown expanses, hills lined with cultivated olive and orange groves, and craggy odd-shaped peaks, all spiked with the occasional peep of the Mediterranean.

We arrived late afternoon, and after meeting my friend for a drink (red wine and lemonade. When in Jimena, as they say) made our way to our digs for the next week or so. The house has been a year-long renovation project for my friend; we’re the inaugural visitors in what will be a holiday rental. It is traditional for the area: white washed and multi-leveled, with cooling tiles, exposed beams, low doorways (Tim’s noggin can attest to this) and hidden terraces. It also, to the delight of the kids and the relief of the parents, has a tiny pool which is the perfect size for sitting in with a beverage after the heat of the day has subsided.

It’s a slow moving town. Partly because it’s Spanish, partly because it’s hot, and partly because it’s steep (but probably mostly because it’s Spanish). The weekend we arrived was the annual Féria so around 9pm the town – the Purler ring-ins included – started mobilising down to the main square, which became a hot spot of cerveca, jamon and flamenco (and several far less traditional Spanish things: dodgem cars and jumping castles). I couldn’t quite bring myself to let my kids stay out fiesta-ing as long as the Spanish brats (2am!!) but they made it to a very respectable midnight.

Today, we walked up winding cobbled streets past wild blackberries, fig and avocado trees to the medieval Castillo de Jimena de la Frontera. Built by the Grenadian Moors, it was one of many points that guarded access to Gibraltar and the Bay of Algeciras. Although in ruins now (another ‘broken castle’, to Addie’s ongoing confusion. Actually, not ‘Addie’: she insisted on being called ‘Princess Anna’ for the duration of our visit. I was apparently to be called the less glamorous and far less explicable ‘Fireman’), its strategic position was obvious as it looms above not only Jimena, but all surrounding land.

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We are trying to adjust to many things – the heat, Spanish timekeeping, red wine and lemonade, the bloody hills. This is most difficult for me, as I seem to operate on two functions: rushed or even more rushed. I’m trying to relax, to not worry so much about time frames (meñana, meñana as they say here) and to embrace slow walking in the shade, long lunches, late afternoon siestas and even later dinners. I am pleased to report that it’s not going too badly thus far, but I suspect we have the red wine and lemonade to thank for that.

Countdown

Nine visitors – not all at once, admittedly (the most at any one time was a whopping five which is unheard of outside the festive season) – have kept us on our toes for the last few months. The ‘Wendy Noller Tour Of Luzern’ has been getting a thorough workout. I am no longer sure which facts I’ve researched myself, which I’ve stolen from other (legitimate) tour guides, or which are even facts at all. I’m fairly sure at least twenty percent of my cobbled together show-and-tell is either embellished or made up entirely, but I no longer remember which parts this applies to, and believe it all fervently myself.


Eight dips, thus far this season, I’ve taken in Lake Luzern. I’m talking full body immersion, which is something of a record because unlike the other Purlers (who are either insensitive or foolhardy or most likely both) I am totally chicken when it comes to cold water swimming. But at the end of last summer, realising I’d barely felt the chill of the current above my knees, I regretted not holding my breath and taking the literal plunge more often. So this year, I’m working on embracing the bracing, beautiful waters.


Seven cygnets have arrived, and have grown so much since they’ve hatched they must be almost ready to make their own way in the world. The family of swans lives right near our lake, and since the little ones were born mama and papa have been parading the family around proudly: shuffling awkwardly along the sand, gliding smoothly across the glassy lake, plunging suddenly into the depths as a potential meal is spied. I’m still terrified of them, but last Friday evening as we sat enjoying a grill the family passed very close to us. As they walked by – papa in the lead, six little ones trailing behind, followed by the mama and one last, tardy cygnet. I saw the mama (because it had to be the poor, frustrated mama) turn to her baby and positively snap at him: ‘hurry up!’ or ‘stop whining, we’re almost there’ or ‘we’ll go to the park again tomorrow, we were there for three hours already today’. I wanted to exchange a sympathetic look with her, but I’m way too scared of them to make eye contact.


Six minutes of listening to a cellist playing while a ballerina danced around a donkey. As part of Art Basel, I tagged along with Uncle Pip (my bestie, and the taker of the snaps below) to Schloss Mauensee, the private residence of a Swiss businessman who was a Chinese diplomat, and remains a prominent Chinese art collector. The castle and the art were both amazing, although I do admit to being slightly perplexed at the donkey installation described above. It was Phillip’s last night in Switzerland, and a delightful – if not at times surreal – way to spend it.


Five meals of raclette in only a few short weeks (purely for the visitors, you understand). I mention this primarily because if I am hospitalised in the near future, you’ll know to check my arteries. I love the dish – and we like to think our raclette game is increasingly strong – but it is most definitely a sometimes food. Hoo boy.


Four heavenly days in Mallorca. More pertinently: four heavenly days away from my (much loved) offspring. Since Phil (who, again, took the snaps below) was visiting at the same time as my in-laws, the opportunity arose for the two of us to hit the island. I’d assumed the largest of the Balearic Islands would be ridden with tourists with little to offer other than mega resorts, swim up bars, buffet dinners. (Please note: I do not hate any of these things. They are just not my priority for a sans-family getaway). I am perfectly capable of admitting that I was completely wrong. Palma was a small but fascinating city, with the excellent food the Spaniards frequently deliver. We drove to the coast to lie on beaches framed by national park – busier than the ones I’m used to at home, but no less lovely. We spent our final night in the mountains, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, and as you can imagine had a rotten time altogether.


Three nights away for Tim, travelling around Italy with one of his old friends. Not to be outdone by my lone getaway (which I may or may not have classily referred to as breaking away from the shackles of my family), Tim hit the road not long afterwards. He had his favourite type of break: covering lots of ground, seeing lots of Italy (Lago Iseo! Venice! The Cinque Terre!), eating and drinking and taking photos. We missed him, of course, but have loved hearing his tales and seeing his snaps and insisting that he return wiht us to give us the ‘Tim Purtell Tour Of Italia’ very soon.


Two syllables that have delighted me: ‘mama’ has finally been uttered by the cracker-loving lad in the house. Of course, now I’m wishing he didn’t holler it at me quite so frequently, such as earlier today in the shopping centre when he (successfully, I’m afraid) demanded a pretzel by yelling ‘mamamamamamamamamama’ non stop at the top of his lungs.


One tuckered out family. We’ve loved every minute of our run of visitors. Having family and friends stay with us makes us far less homesick and is a load of fun to boot. The kids, in particular, relish the excuse to hit the lake or a mountain or go out for lunch as a ‘very special treat’ (a phrase that loses its meaning somewhat when you’re doing it almost daily). Now that the rush is over, we’re now slowing down a bit (which basically means catching up on the piles of laundry and cleaning and sundry joys of the Hausfrau Life). Last night, our little crew sat around the table for our first Sunday roast. While there was a marked difference from the pulsing dinner of a few weeks ago (six adults! three kids!) it was relaxed, cosy, us. Not terribly quiet though; the little dude yelling ‘mamamamamama’ every time he wanted a roast spud took care of that.

Proud

My best mate Phil – also the girl’s Guidefather – and his partner Andrew have been hanging out in the Europes and making us hideously jealous with their social media snaps for the last month. They visited us in Luzern for their first weekend, and we’d been biding our time until meeting them in Madrid to bookend their visit before they went home. We arrived last Friday and were greeted by heat in the high 30s, instantly forcing us to slow down, relax and drink cerveza (which happily this pregnant lady doesn’t actually like, so it wasn’t until the lads hit the gins that I got surly).

When booking the trip it was unusually difficult to find somewhere to stay. The apartment we chose required a minimum four night booking, despite its website claiming otherwise. On querying this we were told this was due to it being one of the biggest events of the year in Madrid: Pride! Apparently the largest festival of its kind in the world, Madrid Pride has over 2 million people celebrating over the weekend. The whole city had its glad rags on.

Madrid 0021 - 20160704We spent our Saturday moseying around the city, spending some playing time at the surprisingly lush El Retiro park, where the girl’s father and uncles seemed to have more fun playing than she did.

We lunched with our Spanish friends Paella and its noodly cousin Fidueà, and then embraced that other excellent Spanish tradition: the siesta. We figured we couldn’t be in Madrid for the party of the year without giving it a go, so we got our fiesta on and hit the streets for Pride. As we walked the few blocks to the parade, we could hear music and revelry increasingly escalating, and the girl’s dance moves kicked in.

For a two million people strong party, the city was amazingly relaxed. There was a vibe of good cheer with costumed people, DIY-sangria-sellers, families, and general revellers throughout the city, but no angst or overt drunkenness that I associate with epic street parties (well, those in Australia at any rate). The parade itself was huge, starting at 6pm and continuing well into the early hours. We’re used to the spectacle and flamboyance of Sydney’s fabulous Mardi Gras; this parade, although enormous, was much more low key but in a way was more inclusive. Anyone and everyone was in on the act, with no fencing between the crowds and the parade so bystanders could become part of the act if they so chose (which many of them seemed to do). Rather than being solely focused on the parade, the party is city wide, with stages, DJs and live music set up in squares and greens across town. We strolled the closed off streets, watching the festivities and (in my case not) drinking litre-large beers before hitting a nearby rooftop bar to eagle eye the crowds, lights and spectacular Madrid sunset (and, of course, indulging in late night exceedingly garlicy tapas on the way home).

The following day we’d planned a cycle tour around the city. It was Laidey’s first time on a bike and although the set up was fairly laborious she got into the groove quickly enough (although her ‘smile for the camera’ face needs a bit more work).

It turned out to be just the five of us on the tour, and we scooted around the streets we’d partied on the night previously. We started at Point 0 in the city and made our way outwards, circling palaces and vine covered buildings down towards the river. The main piece of trivia I remember from the tour guide was that Madrid is clearly party central – there is more than one drinking establishment per each person living in the city, and beer is far cheaper than water or soft drinks. Hurrah for Madrid!

The day was again hot – it clocked 38 as we were cycling around – and the heat took it out of a certain little someone. I realise she looks in a bad way here, head lolling as she slept against her father’s back, but rest assured she perked back up as soon as we stopped and got stuck into a plate of olives (still with that ridiculous ‘grin’).

We spent our final night with more tapas, questionable premixed sangria and discussions of the holiday just gone and those to come. Despite their best efforts over the weekend, Uncles Pip and Sunny were not able to get the girl to say their names before she says ‘mama’ (thank goodness. I would be furious…and yet unsurprised). We flew back together to Zurich where they embarked on the long haul home, and we made tracks back to Luzern to play with a circus themed puppet show from the already much missed Uncle Pip. And, of course, work on our smiles.

Casa Batllo

It was Tim’s dad’s long term dream to visit Barcelona, and specifically to see the work of Antoni Gaudi. The day we arrived the inlaws had visited Casa Batllo and regaled us with  tales of the house and its creator, and generously offered to take our little miss for a morning so we could experience the site ourselves. We enthusiastically took them up on it – I figured that even if the house was dull, I could sneak off and catch a baby-free snooze in the Spanish sun and nobody would be any the wiser.

Gaudi (or, as we suspect many people call him, Gaudy)(although the googles tell me the word has no relationship with the man) was a Catalan architect who specialised in an organic modern style of design. He rarely drew plans, preferring instead to build complex three dimensional models from which he and the builders would engineer his designs when the time came (part of the reason his Sagrada Familia is still under construction nearly 100 years since his death). He was told as he graduated that ‘we have given this academic title either to a fool or genius. Time will show’. Given the popularity of all his buildings throughout Barcelona it seems the general consensus is the latter.

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Casa Batllo was remodelled by Gaudi with no limitations imposed by the Batllo family (the patriarch of which was a textile magnate who owned the building and commissioned Gaudi). I’m not sure what they thought they might get, or what they were hoping for, but if they had their fingers crossed for a surreal underwater-esque abode, they were probably fairly happy.

The house is built around a central shaft, with glass and cascading blue tiles made to mirror the effect of the ocean. Tim recalled deep sea diving and the distorted feeling one gets looking at the shimmering distant surface from the depths.

The tour was a (magnificently baby free) self guided audio and visual lark. The narrator told the story of the house and Gaudi, and as you held the iPhone to different aspects of the house you were shown images of both what it would have looked like in its heyday, and what Gaudi may have been imagining when he designed it. For example, when I hovered the phone over the fire place a mushroom materialised on the screen, lit up, and then smouldered away as if it was on fire (or I was on drugs)(also, that’s Rohan and not said mushroom).

It was several stories high and incorporated both the family residence as well as several apartments. It had foyers, sewing rooms, and large windows out of which to spy on passers-by.

As we neared the roof, we hit the surprisingly beautiful laundry and storage rooms, which had been designed to promote natural air flow and cooling throughout the building.

The final stop was the roof terrace, where we basked in the sun and longed for only one thing – an icy sangria (and maybe another few hours sans baby).

The remainder of the day was filled with wandering the city streets, eating tasty tapas, chatting, and playing with our girl. Which, when it comes to it, is pretty much our favourite kind of day.

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