Spanish Sojourn

Grandmother, grandchild take in splendor of European country

By Marilyn L. Pinsky and Sophie N. Craig

Sophie and the author, Marilyn Pinsky, during their recent trip to Spain.
Sophie and the author, Marilyn Pinsky, during their recent trip to Spain.

Last year, my granddaughter and I went on an impromptu trip to Spain.

Both of our schedules had suddenly opened up and I secured flights only 10 days before leaving.

As Sophie was away at field hockey camp, we couldn’t communicate too much about plans and decided to just “wing it.”

We flew to Barcelona for a week and then took a train to Madrid for the second week, using Airbnb, an online site for vacation rentals, to find apartments in both cities.

We really lucked out, as August is a busy tourist time, but maybe being last minute allowed us to get nice places at reasonable rates.

The stories that follow are just a few highlights to give a sense of traveling together from each of our perspectives.

MLP (the Grandmother)

The first couple of days were a little rocky. Whenever I’ve traveled to a country where I didn’t speak the language, I had been part of a tour group.

This trip I was totally dependent on Sophie, who had just turned 16, and her high school Spanish. We bought tour books to read on the plane that gave us a general idea of what to see, but where to eat and getting around was more of a challenge.

Except for the apartments, we had no other game plan. Based on the information in our books, she asked for directions to get us around and we asked people we met for restaurant suggestions and tours to take.

Lucky for me, she is a curious person and always happy to be on the go.

Lucky for her, she could FaceTime her mother when she was unhappy with me.

Sophie Craig (the granddaughter)

I’ve always wanted to see Spain and going with my Nana made it even better. I didn’t know what to expect because I left all the planning up to her. I just knew Barcelona and Madrid were on my bucket list. The time change when we arrived in Barcelona was really difficult for me. On the other hand, my Nana had so much energy and was ready to go explore.

So, that’s what we did. It was so overwhelming, especially the amount of people. My immediate thought was, “I’m going to lose Nana.” Luckily, she had traveled out of the country many times before and knew to stay close by.

MLP

The first day was not good. By the time we arrived at the apartment it was early afternoon.

We hadn’t eaten since early morning on the plane and we were both jet lagged and starved so we dumped our bags and went out to search for food. Sophie is a vegetarian and I eat gluten-free and every place the two of us could even agree on was closing for afternoon break.

The temperature was in the high 90s and we walked and walked until finally finding a place.

Then we couldn’t agree on walking or taking a cab to the center of town as we didn’t know how close we were and figuring out money for the cab was stressful for me.

I finally just left it up to her.

Then, after having walked for hours trying to get the lay of the land, the key to the apartment wouldn’t work and we were locked out. As our phones didn’t work in Spain, we went to a tiny store nearby and tried to convince the clerk, who didn’t speak either Spanish or English, to let us use his phone to call the apartment owner to come back and let us in. Finally, the owner’s friend came and explained how the locks worked.

By that time we were both hot and crabby and retreated to our rooms. Right here was a big advantage to staying in an apartment versus one hotel room — we could shut the doors and be alone for a while.

We had also bought water and some food as we had a kitchen and that was really helpful too.

SpainSophie

We had a book that told us where we should go in Barcelona. The first day we went to a famous museum. I can’t recall the name because I just remember not being that interested at the time. Nana really wanted to figure out how to use the metro system so we didn’t have to walk or take a cab everywhere.

So we went down a few flights of stairs and escalators to get to the metro. Everything was in Spanish but luckily I had taken Spanish the past three years and was able to piece the words together. We each bought a ticket that allowed 15 trips. I found myself asking people how it all worked a few times before I was able to understand it. You have to match the color and direction. It’s just as complicated as it sounds and very frustrating. Finally, we reached our first destination.

MLP

One of my favorite things was watching Sophie communicate with strangers and develop relationships, one of whom was with a lovely older woman who ran a bakery and coffee shop near the apartment in Barcelona. We had to stop in every day and say hello.

We did a lot of touring, visited every important museum and after taking afternoon naps, ate late dinners in interesting places. Barcelona is a beautiful city with great architecture and nice neighborhoods to just wander through.

And then it was off to Madrid.

Sophie

On Nana’s birthday in Madrid, we didn’t have anything planned and decided to just play it by ear. We left our apartment around 11 and walked about three blocks down the road. That’s when we both decided to eat a burrito bowl for breakfast.

The place was similar to Chipotle but more fresh and local. The woman running it was from the United States, just out of college, and very friendly. I loved talking with her and hearing how she got to where she was. Our burritos were so fresh and the perfect breakfast, that we even went back the next day for lunch.

The woman from the restaurant told us about a place with a rooftop bar where she liked to go. I found out what street it was on and that night we just started walking. We arrived at a building with 13 floors that had a museum inside it. Nana asked if I wanted to go to the museum as well, but we had already been to so many, I turned down that idea very quickly.

We walked up to the desk and bought tickets to the rooftop bar. The elevator took us all the way up to the 13th floor, and as the doors opened we got out and handed our tickets to a man. As soon as we turned a corner, we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. We were on top of Madrid. There was multiple patio areas covered with artificial grass and pillows as well as cabanas with cushioned lawn chairs. In the middle there was a bar and two giant statues overlooking the city on either side.

The breathtaking view became even more amazing after it had sprinkled for five minutes. That’s because of the rainbow that appeared. We both felt like it was a sign from Papa, Nana’s husband, who had passed away a few years before. He was saying happy birthday in a beautiful way. After many tears and hugs we could not believe that was one of our last days in Spain.

MLP

We did things I would never do alone, like a massage in the middle of a busy square by what appeared to be gypsies who surrounded us playing music the whole time. We also went dancing after dinner with a group of people from many different countries that we could only communicate with through gestures and smiles.

Sophie

Even though it was hard at times when Nana wanted to go to museums and I wanted to shop, we seemed to make it work. As long as we took a little power nap, ate periodically, and had a little bit of alone time each day we stayed happy. This trip to Spain really made Nana and I even closer and I would love to do it again, but maybe with fewer museums.

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