A Travellerspoint blog

December 2012

Boxing Day Barcelona

by Ben

sunny 20 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Today was a great day for sunshine. We had a pretty lazy start. As many of you may have noticed I did a lot of catching up on the blog.

We walked for a couple of hours along the beach front and unlike yesterday all of Barcelona seemed to have the same idea. The beach is fairly narrow but has ample sand and many services, restaurants palm trees, sidewalks and boats. The beach goes on for many kilometers. We can only imagine how packed it must be in hot weather. As elsewhere in Spain there is unique architecture everywhere--the Spanairds do have have style.

Barcelona: Torre Agbar

Barcelona: Torre Agbar

Abby made us a delcious stir fry dinner this evening after which we went for an evening walk to track down a buiding we have seen in the distance that has an amazing light display for Christmas. The building is the Torre Agbar which was just completed about five years ago. It has 4500 lights on it which allows it to generate displays. It was well worth the outing to see. I have a short videoclip and you can click on the Torre Agbar link to learn more about the building.

We were able to talk with Muriel and Skype. She was pretty tired and missed a connection in Vancouver so arrived at 10:30 in Victoria on the night of the 25th and had not slept a wink during the trip. It was wonderful that Lynda called Mom and said she would pick up Muriel at the airport especially since Nick has come down with the flu today and Diana is just recovering. Muriel was happy for a loving hug at the airport. Muriel made it but her bag ended up in Madrid and may get back to her on the 27th. Despite all the hardship Muriel is holding up well.

Tonight was laundry night for us in Spain and we are beginning to think about our travel plans for heading to France the day after tomorrow. We will get the details worked out tomorrow and do one last outing into Barcelona tomorrow.

Posted by KZFamily 16:01 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona Comments (4)

A Very Different Christmas

by Ben

semi-overcast 17 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

This was not the Christmas morning we were expecting. Muriel was getting up to catch a plane back home to Victoria to be reunited with family to mourn the passing of her Dad.

Again, it may sound odd from the outside looking in, but we were happy in a way that due to lack of flights we had our Christmas Eve together. It really brought a lot of comfort and a measure of peace . We placed stockings on the kids beds (actually laundry bags filled with treats etc--they were clean laundry bags!) before we woke them up. We shared an hour together before I took Muriel to the airport. Muriel's flight left on time and hopefully she will be in Victoria at 8:30 pm on Christmas Day.

A new reality has also emerged. Due to our location and the holiday season and other logistics we cannot get back home for several days. Muriel, her Mom and I have been talking about this since we first heard the news. We are facing at what was at first an unthinkable decision of not coming home. Mom said from the beginning that she didn't want the grandkids spending Christmas in the middle of the turmoil. She wants them to remember Grandpa in a happier and healthier environment. There is little to be gained in comfort and closure by moving heaven and earth to find a way home. She asked that we stay put. An additional time of remembering for grandpa can be held when the time is truly right. Muriel says the silver lining is that she can be totally devoted to her Mom and and stay with her over the next few weeks and work things through. There is no real handbook for such situations. After much talk that has fully involved the girls we are honoring Mom's request and accepting the reality of the formidable barriers to getting home and will remain in Europe. Muriel will stay in Victoria for as long as necessary and rejoin us at some point. It really sounds surreal when I put it in print but it seems the best decision for us.

45 to 49 Barcelona 234

45 to 49 Barcelona 234

When I got home from the airport I couldn't believe what was in store. The kids who did all the grocery shopping yesterday, knowing there was no prospect of us getting out of Barcelona in the next two days, had prepared hors d'oeuvres including croquettes and other Spanish takes on such snacks. There was some champagne as well. We then went for a walk along the beach-it was a comfortable temperature but a bit hazy. We had the beach mostly to ourselves--I think most of the population was feasting with family. It was a very pleasant time.

45 to 49 Barcelona 226

45 to 49 Barcelona 226

In the days leading up to Christmas Muriel had sourced supplies for baking shortbread and making chocolate mint bark with pistachoes. The girls wasted no time and started baking. They did their own twist on the shortbread by dipping them halfway into melted chocolate. We had plenty of sweets to accompany Christmas dinner.

Hannah then announced she was going to single-handedly make Christmas dinner. She had bought some very nice steaks and prepared them perfectly along with roasted small potatoes, green beans with almonds and a whole whack of delicious homemade stuffing (with bacon and onions-my fav).

All these ingredients along with the kid's attitudes will make this a Christmas dinner I will never forget.

Right after dinner we had a group Skype call with my Dad, Sister, Brother and my brother's family. It was one of the nicest calls I think I have experienced. There was some real warm words of comfort and support and some good laughter and sharing. It was made a bit awkward by the contant loss of connection and quality problems but when half the world Skypes at Christmas and they don't have to pay to not only hear but see each other from half way around the world who can complain. Thanks family for making the call possible.

In the evening, for a little bit of nostalgia we watched the movie Polar Express. It was a nice pleasant escape and brought the atmosphere of winter into the apartment which helped it feel more like Christmas. Just before we went to bed I read the Christmas story. It was an appropriate end to a day that we made the best of. It looks like we are all going to be okay.

Posted by KZFamily 13:33 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona christmas Comments (4)

Sad Day

By Ben

overcast 14 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

I am hesitant to include this entry into our blog. We have put in a public space our joyful experiences as a family travelling and some would say our experiences of escaping the cares of the world. This is a record of our experiences to keep for ourselves but also to share and live with you our friends and aquaintances. What do you do when what happens has nothing to do with these things? I have chosen to share and I may give some reasons at the end of this post.

We had some terrible and very unexpected news via email this morning. We learned that Muriel's Dad had died of a massive heart attack on the evening of December 23rd. Muriel's Dad had undergone vascular surgery for his leg several days earlier to address the failure of a surgery earlier this year. He had gotten the surgery date much earlier than anyone had expected due to a cancellation. He had been uncomfortable in the days after the surgery due to complications caused by gallstones. They had just addressed this a couple of hours earlier when suddenly his heart gave way.

No words can describe how difficult it is to lose a husband, father, father-in-law, brother and grandfather especially so suddenly and unexpectedly. Muriel's Dad had driven off to the airport less than seven weeks ago and now he is gone.

We were very fortunate that Marianne, a great friend, was there with Mom when it all happened and is staying with Mom until Muriel's brother, Nick, and his wife can get to Victoria from Prince George. Obviously it has been a very hard morning here and we know it has been far worse for Mom back in Victoria.

After some time of tears and letting it all sink in we needed to face the reality of being far from home. A look at the Internet and possible flights out showed our plight immediately--getting home during Christmas would take a miracle. We decided to focus on getting Muriel home as soon as possible and worry about the rest of it later. Muriel and I drove to the airport to find no flights available today. The first few people we talked to were not unkind but could offer nothing. We finally ended up at a ticket counter with a woman of great empathy and considerable talent and she managed to get Muriel a flight out for tomorrow. We have much to be thankful for, especially this ticket agent who did the impossible with no expectation of acknowledgement or reward.

It may sound awful that Muriel cannot get out today-but in the end it was what was best. We decided to have Christmas in Barcelona despite the grief because that is what Morris would told us to do. We ate a much needed meal as we had not eaten all day and then played Christmas songs and exchanged gifts and talked about Dad. We experienced peace and love despite the circumstances and even a bit of joy knowing Dad is not suffering or facing the prospect of a life without mobility.

During this day Hannah and Abby have shown a maturity and strength that goes beyond description. While Muriel and I went to the airport they went out to shop for food for the day and for Christmas and Boxing Day knowing that no stores would be open. They planned not just subsistence but food proper for the holiday season. They did it in a non English speaking environment in the most challenging of circumstances. They had to be brave and independent when all anyone would have wished for them was a chance just to gathered up and cared for.

I share all this because it is life and it cannot be escaped. Our trip really never was about escaping life but an attempt to live it and experience it to its fullest. Our aim was to bond and grow as a family and take time to reflect on what is important. We are taking the time to evaluate and re-evaluate a lot of things. It has been generally a happy experience but it has been a stretch and trying at times too. The passing away of a parent is now becoming part of this experience and is a stark reminder that there is no where you can run and hide from the "real world."

We put our trust in all who read our blog to be gentle and thoughtful with what you do with what we are sharing. We are grateful to friends and family who have done a lot already. We just want to thank Marianne especially who has done so much to care for Mom and had to face all this head on in the absence of any other help.

Posted by KZFamily 08:28 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona Comments (9)

Barcelona Sunday

By Ben

sunny 18 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Barcelona: Gaudi Style

Barcelona: Gaudi Style

I had discovered in a web search that there was an International Church of Barcelona (ICB) that represented over 25 nationalities that held services in English. We thought it would be great to give it a go. We hopped the local metro (have we said how much we love subway systems) and within a half an hour were halfway across the city walking along warm sunlit streets. We still are no sold on Barcelona as it is dirtier and seedier than Valencia but the wide boulevards are nice.

ICB has a service at 10:00 am and a duplicate service at 12:00 pm. When we arrived in the foyer, the din was incredible with all the people milling about and talking. Much like our experience in Morocco the vast majority of people attending were from Africa. The pastor and his wife are from California and have been in Barcelona for 10 years and have been elsewhere in Europe for another 10. There were somewhere between 100 and 150 people at the service with visitors from the UK, Holland, USA and Canada in the mix. There were many Spanish speaking people there and they were the ones wearing the headphones to hear the English being translated to Spanish which was a bit of mind bender for us.

It was pretty much a Christmas service, which is what we were hoping for. All the young kids came up and sang and as a group we sang quire a few Christmas carols. The sermon was very interesting in that it compared Christ life to that of immigrants and refugees. Ninety percent of this church are immigrants and refugees who are starting from nothing. It is a community that is helping each other make a new start in a foreign land with no resources.

Barcelona: Catalan Christmas Logs

Barcelona: Catalan Christmas Logs

After the service a visitor from the UK asked us where we were from in Canada. He was quite excited when he heard we were from Victoria as he had visited relatives in Vancouver on several occassions. He had immigrated to the UK from Ghana 30 years ago and his daughter immigrated to Spain several years ago so he gets around. We had quite a good time comparing cultural experiences and observations (including North American addition to conveniences and very large portions). In no time Emmanuel and his wife gave us their name and telephone number in London and told us to call them for lunch when we got to their neck of the woods. It was nice to talk to several English speaking people and be part of a community for at least a short time.

After church we went to walk La Rambla, Barcelona's premier shopping and walking street. It seemed the whole city was out to do the same thing. There were many trinket stalls set up and a generous amount of stalls selling Christmas decorations and Catalan fire logs. We ended up buying a Poinsettia to add some more Christmas cheer to our apartment and picked up wrapping paper and a few other stocking stuffers on the way. Our biggest challenge was finding a store that sold cellophane tape. We took in a few more of Gaudi's creations during our walk and then headed underground to take the metro back. When we popped up again the streets were dark and we walked home quite contented with our day out.

Barcelona: Christmas Elves

Barcelona: Christmas Elves

In the evening we had a tree decorating party with hot chocolate and gave the kids Santa hats that we had secretly picked up in Portugal. I also gave the kids the three wisemen figurines to hide in the apartment (who knows where they will appear--freezer, inside coffee maker etc). We had the Christmas tunes going as well so all was great in the world as we took turns wrapping presents. We wound down with a little online television and went to bed well past our bedtime.

Posted by KZFamily 08:22 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona christmas Comments (3)

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