March 30 – June 6, 2019
Gava – 1 night
Cullera (Valencia) – 4 nights
Playa Paraiso near Cartagena (Granada) – 2 nights
In our 4th month of travel, we were all on a constant teeter-totter between having amazing, once-in-a-lifetime type of days and seriously upsetting, emotionally charged ones.
We all got lonely this month and at the end of it all, we realized that we moved from place to place too many times. Our plan was to stay in locations 2-5 days at the time but with 3 kids, schoolwork, different interests, loneliness and constantly sharing the same space, our initial plans proved to be overly ambitions. This was all happening right in the most vulnerable month of any long term travel. Many traveling families have reported that around 4th month of travel, things can get a bit trickier mostly because everyone gets emotionally oversaturated with spending all the time together, day in and day out. That certainly proved true for us.
Even though we had this plan to travel through Spain and Portugal in June, we haven’t really planned our direction, stops or accommodations ahead of time. We were still in Morocco when we received great news that a couple of our friends from Holland were going to join us for a few days in Spain. Their visit determined direction of our travel through Spain and the timing of the first couple of stops – we were to head south from Barcelona in order to get to Malaga by June 6th where we would meet up with Henry and Kiki.
We returned back from Morocco to Barcelona on March 30th and stayed one night in a car camp in Gava, a few kilometers south of Barcelona’s airport. This experience was an eye opener of how sophisticated camping in Europe can be. We stayed in small simple cabins with 2 sets of bunk beds and a fridge, close to the communal bathrooms, with the camp having a private access to the beach. I was a bit giddy about seeing their bathroom facilities that seemed equivalent to bathrooms in some fancy hotels. I had to take pictures for you all to see them too.
That night, we received a message from Airbnb that our apartment reservation for the next day in Valencia got canceled at the last minute. My attempts to find an equivalent space at the last minute, and stay within our budget, were unsuccessful. I ended up booking us a place in a beach town called Cullera, 45 minutes south of Valencia. It turned out that Pedja has tagged a beach there as one of his bucket list items a few years earlier –somewhat serendipitous considering that I booked this place without realizing that this location had some significance for him.
It turned out that we stumbled into some luxury in Cullera. This apartment was half of the size of our house in Seattle and had stunning views of the sea. Out-of-season accommodations in Cullera (high season is in July) were renting at about 50% less than in Barcelona. The kids were loving this space, location, and all the amenities including a big screen TV, games, and swimming pool with the most gorgeous views.
However, my memories of this first part of our journey are colored by the intense sad emotions resulting from our sightseeing visit to Valencia.
As it is often the case, sightseeing with 3 kids of different ages and abilities can be challenging for any family. Our chaotic bunch didn’t stray from the norm.
One morning, by the time we drove up to Valencia, Maksim and Nina have already picked on each other at least a dozen times. Pedja was stressing about finding parking, teenager was getting annoyed with all of us and I was at the end of my wits before we even started walking around the city. It’s hard to be right in the middle of this “push and pull” dynamic when I, as a parent, can almost outline all the reactions and patterns of behaviors that usually unfold in these situations. I could totally foresee the rest of our day before it even started. I wish I could say I was mature and calm enough to behave like the parent I wish I am or how parenting books outline.
Instead, at one point, I flipped out and screamed at the boys that they will not be moving an inch from the spot where we were, and that for the next few hours, we would sit there while Pedja and Petra got some alone time. That’s exactly what happened. I made the boys sit (or lay down) on the benches around the Science Museum where I had a good view of the water and could keep them apart from each other.
I was feeling overwhelmingly sad about the state of our family, where each one was emotionally, our dynamics, fights between the kids, how hard it was to be with Nina when he is so repetitive, bossy and controlled by OCD, how hard it is for Petra to be stuck with all of us. I was feeling really lonely even though (or probably because) I was in the company of others at all times.
I had my internal pity party for 3 hours straight, sitting in the same place, with Maksim laying on the bench on my left side and Nina on the right. It seemed like I freaked them out enough that they didn’t make a sound or picked on each other for hours.
Pedja and Petra had a great time alone, they saw charms of Valencia, and brought tons of pictures back. I was so emotionally spent by the time they returned that I was totally fine with not seeing Valencia and leaving it for some other time.
As I said initially, we were on a daily emotional teeter-totter so our one pretty BAD day in Valencia was followed by the next few GOOD days. Rest of our stay in Cullera was filled with calm activities – Petra and I took a couple of long walks, we all watched many movies, Maki and I did some school work, etc.
From Cullera, we drove south towards Cartagena and spent 2 nights on a nearby beach called Playa Paraiso where we just swam, ate, slept and read. Maki was in the middle of reading Diary of Wimpy Kid books and was zooming through the series daily. It was heartwarming to see him flip to a full-fledged, self-motivate reader.
I was still not emotionally recovered from our Valencia disaster to attempt another sightseeing day in Cartagena so we didn’t make it there. Two days later, as we continued our journey from Cartagena to Malaga, we stopped in Granada where we didn’t get to see Alhambra Palace. At this time of the year, the entrance tickets were sold out 3 weeks in advance. Granada itself was cute but nothing spectacular in my humble opinion.
Looking back on those first days of our Spain/Portugal journey, they unfolded just as we needed them to be – mostly calm, without much happening, just learning the basic routines of road tripping, making them first just bearable and then even enjoyable.
I’m also slowly learning to listen to my gut and heart rather than my plans and calendar. However, I have an unsettling feeling these days that I’m somehow running out of time. I don’t mean it as running out of time of this journey, but in general, painfully aware of how time is going by quickly, kids are growing up, our time on this earth constantly ticking away. Maybe all of this is influenced by loosing my dad at his young age of 55 but whatever it is, it’s definitely some sort of an existential, midlife crisis. We’ll see what or who will emerge on the other side of this current journey.