Tag: we go there too

“We Go There, Too!” with Natalia of CultureBaby

This past Christmas, I received a gift I’d been waiting almost a decade for… my husband took me back to Spain!

I am absolutely bananas about Spain.  Call it nostalgia: I lived there for three years as a child, and vacationed there frequently throughout high school and college.  But as is typical of your twenties, I never had the time or the money to make it back. But this past December, I got to return with my husband and toddler son, Xavier, to introduce them to Spain and fall in love with it all over again..

When people think of Spain, they think of beaches or exciting nightlife.  Neither being possible in December or with a two year old, we tasted many of the country’s lesser known charms.  On our circuit up from our current home base in Morocco, we started in Andalucia, visiting Ronda and Granada before driving through Alicante to ferry to Mallorca. Then back west again, we hit Valencia, Cordoba and Seville. Of all the wonderful memories we made, I’ll remember three things in particular.

1. Horsies

I’ve found that one of the best ways to involve a child in international travel is to tie it into their passion of the moment.  Though Xavier has since moved on to elephants, December was the month of the horse.

In many of the cities we visited, horse and carriage rides were among the most convenient ways to see the city, particularly given how rough cobblestones can be on stroller wheels!  Although they can be expensive, choosing at least one city to partake in a ride can be well worth the cost.  Everywhere else, we took time out to spot other carriages around town, ride carousel horses or book a pony ride.

In Cordoba, we visited the Royal stables for an equestrian show.  The beautiful animals and talented riders dance around the paddock to music and lights.  It was magical to see the wonder in Xavier’s eyes and yell  “HORSIES” every minute or so.  The horses can be seen training by day as well and an even larger show can be seen in Jerez.

In Seville, horsies were out in force for the Three Kings or “Reyes” celebration.  No one does festivals quite like the Spanish and kids are never left out, no matter how late they go.  On January 6, Balthazar, Caspar and Melchior arrive and are welcomed with a parade of mounted attendants and elaborate floats. It is an exceptionally raucous but wonderfully festive event.  If you are visiting Spain with kids, look to see if you can time your visit with a local festival; there will always be plenty to entertain the kids.

2. Pastries

One of my favorite things about Spain is the food.  Tapas, fresh seaside fish and a wonderful array of sweets.  But until visiting with a toddler, I never appreciated that Spanish food is as good in casual, fast food environments as it is in the finest haute cuisine establishments.  I am all for 5 star restaurants, but nothing puts a kink in the evening like playing airplane with your gourmet entree.

Spanish mainstay Paella was fortunately still on the menu for us.  Since it is served family style, it is easy to offer kids a smaller portion.  Moreover, the seafood version of the dish, although the best known, is by no means the only kind.  Chicken and even rabbit versions are also available.  We had our finest sampling in Valencia, Paella’s birthplace.

Elsewhere in Spain, Xavier enjoyed the Spanish pasties.  In almost any Spanish city, it is easy to find “chocolate con churros”.  The chocolate is not what you are used to, it is darker, thick as pudding and ideal for dipping fresh, hot, deep fried churros. It will never be part of a complete nutritious breakfast but it was a hit!

The island of Mallorca, off Spain’s eastern coast, has it’s own special and delicious tradition of pastries.  Our little man made a morning “ensaimada,” a curly, soft confection topped with powdered sugar, a morning tradition (hold the traditional accompaniment of café con leche).

Finally: Chorizo – it probably will land me in Bad Parenting’s hall of fame as the chewiest, saltiest most toddler inappropriate snack on the market today.  But I’ve got to confess to a very naughty pride in seeing how my little man took to this classic Iberian dried sausage.

3.  Time to Run

We have found that it’s best not to travel in spite of a toddler but to open yourself up to new experiences you might never have had traveling as a couple. Slow your pace, choose more open spaces, and try to act less like a tourist and more like a local.  Don’t make yourself a list of “must sees.” Linger in a park, seek out historical or cultural attractions with gardens.  Before we travel, we find it prudent to check in with a local parenting websites. You’ll find more off the beaten track walks and authentic experiences than ever before.

Our favorite moments were less about dragging our poor kiddo through world famous exhibits and more about watching him chase bubbles through a public park or collect oranges in the gardens of the famous Seville Alcazar. Don’t forget to celebrate the kid in you.  Indulge in purely childish pleasures like aquariums and zoos….you might find yourself wondering why you skipped them all these years.

Finally, the wonderful thing about Spain is how they welcome children at almost any event or occasion.  I was shocked to see that I was about the only parent at New Year’s Eve celebrations who had left their baby at home.  Even if there is a typically adult pleasure you are eager to experience, like a wine tasting, call ahead.  Odds are, children are accommodated.  For me, it was just one more reason to love Spain that I never expected.

 

Natalia is the founder and managing partner of CultureBaby. She started the company in 2011 when her son was five months old. On bad days, she puts the whole thing down to a fit of postpartum lunacy. But on most days, she loves seeking out new global products for CultureBaby and hearing from mothers worldwide about how they celebrate their culture and heritage with their kids. You can follow along on her adventures on The Culture Mom Chronicles. Follow her on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter!

“We Go There, Too!” featuring Jill Amery of UrbanMommies.com

We go there – we explore and dig deep into other cultures. We know you go there too. This new series will feature stories from world travelers; they’ve taken their first flight over seas with little ones, they’ve traveled back to their native country to introduce their children to grandparents, they’ve packed up only their necessities and traveled to developing countries. Here, you will find their stories and learn about how they’re going there too.

Kicking off this series, we have Jill Amery of UrbanMommies.com sharing her trip to Liberia. It wasn’t necessarily an easy one, but you’ll see that it was a trip that’s changed her life forever. Thank you Jill for sharing your story with us on Studio T!

I had the privilege of traveling to Liberia in February as a parent ambassador for Right To Play, an organization that helps children learn crucial life lessons through sport and games.  The experience affected me deeply and I can still smell the heavy West African air.  The kids who touched my ‘soft hair’ and reached for my hand are now part of my history.  They grace screensavers and watch me from silver frames.  The polish of the silver juxtaposed with what I witnessed is disconcerting and constantly reminds me to not take my blessings for granted.

The adults and teenagers I met in Liberia had experienced terrible things in their lifetimes with a war that ended very recently.  Some had lost parents and raised themselves.  Most had a loved one who experienced sexual assault.  And every adult associated with Right To Play worked tirelessly to restore hope for the next generation.  Every day the same volunteers (many had no employment themselves but chose to devote their days to teaching children through Right To Play activities) emerged into an empty space and performed magic.  It was like a slow motion film.  The waiting children would all turn, smile and organize themselves into a ‘great big circle’ so they could begin.  The rhythms of their responses to the leader of the game formed a percussive music.  The empty, litter-filled space had become vibrant and full of life.

When I think about the diversity in cultures brought to mainstream culture by Tea Collection, I smile.  Each outfit I see my kids wear reminds me that we are all connected in this small world.  The women of Liberia donned incredible colors and patterns.  Their bright eyes and huge smiles pierced through the grey sand and cracked concrete.  Standing in front of corrugated metal shacks with red, yellow and purple wraps, these women provided what mothers always do – hope and comfort.  Dressing my boys in similar colors and styles gives a nod to these women;  A sign of respect and awe.  And these women deserved nothing less.

One sign on the side of the road has haunted me since my return.  This one advertisement was a definition of ‘Mother’: a person who ‘makes something out of nothing’.  That is exactly what I witnessed.  These women generated a meager income buying bleach in bulk and selling it in small bags, buying a case of water packets and a block of ice and hoping for extreme heat so they may sell a few individual bags of water to quench thirst in their community.

Hope resonated everywhere – through the games, the smiles, the handmade toys and the tiny children playing hide and seek with this North American girl who seemed so different.  I was brought back to the basics of life:  drink fresh water, keep your clothes and environment clean to prevent disease, help your neighbor.  A young boy bathed meticulously in a large bucket by the side of the road.  A woman carrying a huge bundle on her head picked over potato leaves in a market to find the best choices for her family.  It was all about hope.

As a mother, I can make a promise.  I will never stop visiting other cultures and allowing them to penetrate my own motherhood.  I will share the songs and bright fabrics with my children.  I will try to not take my life for granted.  And more than anything, I will remember that hope is all one needs.