Rome

CITY: Rome

HOW LONG: 2 NIGHTS

ACCOMMODATION:

I stayed at Hostel Alessandro Downtown and it was not my favorite, but only because it was very big, which means it is difficult to meet people. The kitchen was only available after breakfast. The common room was too big so people ended up sitting alone at different tables instead of all close together. The rooms were big, but the lockers were a little janky. Some worked and some did so I was a little paranoid that it would be easy to break the locks (luckily no one did). Anyway, I wouldn’t stay here again.

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WHERE TO EAT:

I was only in Rome for 2 nights, 1 day so it was quick! I did eat some delicious pasta and pizza, but surprising it is easy to find pasta and pizza 🙂 I did eat some delicious gelato at Venchi!

WHAT TO DO:

Because I only had one day I decided to walk around Rome and see the sights, but not take the time to go inside anything. I know I will be back and hopefully with more money, so it made sense to just visit the outside of all the incredible sites. I started with the Colosseum the first night I arrived because that was the closest to my hostel. I caught it right at sunset and it was incredible!

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Perfect timing!

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My one full day started with a visit to the Vatican, where I managed to see the Pope speak. What a unique experience.

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St. Peter’s Basilica

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The Pope!

After meandering through the smallest country in the world I headed to Castel Sant’ Angelo, Piazza Navona, then the Pantheon.

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Castel Sant’ Angelo

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Piazza Navona

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Pantheon

After a quick gelato break I arrived at the Trevi fountain, where I just sat and watched all the tourists get their selfie/boomerang of them throwing a coin in the water! Pretty funny stuff.

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Next up was the Spanish steps before heading to the ruins. The ruins were probably my favorite part because it made you think about all the people who came before those of us living today, and how they built an entire city. It’s crazy how much is left standing after all these years!

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Spanish Steps

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I’m guessing this is kinda old?

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Walking around Rome

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Streets of Rome

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Ruins

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More Ruins

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EVEN MORE RUINS

Finally after miles and miles of walking I turned back to the hostel to pack up before getting up at 3:45 to catch a flight to Greece!

OVERALL THOUGHTS:

I went in with such low expectations of Rome because I am not into museums or religion… so I wasn’t sure what I would do in Rome, BUT I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed my day exploring the city. However, I wouldn’t say Rome is the best city for solo travelers. Like Paris, I think Rome is better with someone, whether it be a parent, sibling, friend or S.O.

 

Ciao for now 🙂

Greece

After 6 weeks of solo travel, I am ending my trip with about 8 days with Adam, one of my best friends from high school! Also our friend Matt joined us for Santorini. It was so much fun to see a familiar face and travel with a friend!

CITY: Mykonos

HOW LONG: 3 NIGHTS

ACCOMMODATION:

We stayed Orpheas Rooms hotel and it was GREAT. It was reasonably priced and we had two separate bedrooms. The location was perfect and close to everything. The shower was AMAZING, we both had never seen anything like it. It had like 4 different water spouts and was piping hot. We also had a little patio with a table and chairs where we spent hours playing cards and drinking wine. Definitely recommend a stay here!

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Our little patio

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The coolest door that was next to our place

WHERE TO EAT:

After settling into our place, we wandered out to find some food. We eventually found Kavos Cafe Bar Restaurant, which is right on the water. I am trying to try new foods in each place I go and thus ordered my first ever plate of gyros– and I think I fell in love. They were delicious! Plus they come with tzatziki and french fries so I was in heaven.

After renting ATV’s and exploring some beaches, we wanted to find a restaurant outside of the more touristy downtown and we were in for a treat when we found Myconian Plate. It felt homey and local. The food was delicious and the waiters were very attentive. We had such a great experience at this place!

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Lunch at Mykonian Plate

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Mykonian Plate

After laying out in the sun the next day we found a lovely restaurant right on the beach on the other side of the island called Yialo yialo. The staff were super friendly and the food was good. The best part was that after we ate we were allowed to use their chaise lounges on the beach.

Our last meal on Mykonos was at Marco Polo. It’s a family run restaurant in the middle of Mykonos Town that had a nice ambiance. I ordered a delicious plate of Greek meatballs and Adam and I shared a bottle of wine. It was a nice end to our food experience in Mykonos.

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Dinner at Marco Polo

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our dessert

WHAT TO DO:

Other than walking around Mykonos Town, which is quite cute, the main thing to do on the island is rent ATV’s and go to the cool beaches— So that’s what we did. It was so much fun zipping around the tiny island on them. We used them to beach-hop all day. As you can imagine, we played cards, read our books, napped, and swam all day long. Overall, super fun and relaxing!

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The famous windmills

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Beach day

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“Try and look like you are not freezing!”

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All the chaise lounges

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Adam being inventive

However, as we were here in May, it was a little too early for all the famous partying and clubs to even be open. I think Adam and I were actually pretty happy about that because neither of us are super into that scene. We did end up going out to a bar/club in Mykonos Town and had a blast! They played super fun danceable music and we made some Australian friends.

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The “crazy” famous beach clubs that weren’t so happen’ while we were there

OVERALL THOUGHTS:

I really enjoyed Mykonos and am not sad about being here in the shoulder season. The beaches were beautiful, although a bit windy. I also really liked Mykonos Town, as it was quite cute and trendy.

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Our ferry to Santorini

CITY: Santorini

HOW LONG: 4 NIGHTS

ACCOMMODATION:

We stayed at an airbnb that was literally carved into the cliffs. It was accurately described as a cocoon. It was on the small side but had everything you needed. The best part of the airbnb was the incredible patio that offered chaise lounges to view the incredible sunsets every night. The bathroom was spacious and there was a tiny kitchenette. The bed was comfy and there was also a table with two chairs. Really enjoyed this special airbnb.

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Our patio

WHERE TO EAT:

Our favorite place ended up being a cafe right near our airbnb called Cafe Galini. I think we ended up eating here about 5 times during our stay in Santorini. We had amazing greek yogurt bowls with fresh fruit + honey. Also the club sandwich was our go-to for lunch. I often enjoyed some hot milk + honey in the mornings because I was feeling a little under the weather while here.

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Greek yogurt + fresh berries + honey 🙂

Our other favorite spot was Zafora. We ended up here twice, once for a late dinner, and once for an entire afternoon of playing cards and snacking until the sun had set. We really enjoyed the food, customer service, and most importantly, the view.  One night I had a yummy crepe, and the other I had a yummier gyros plate.

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Zafora!

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Sunset from Zafora

One night we cooked our own meal with some pasta, prosciutto, garlic, and onions and ate on Matt’s balcony.

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Dinner on Matt’s balcony

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The sunset the next day from the same spot

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Drinks to celebrate our birthdays

WHAT TO DO:

Santorini has plenty to offer in forms of things to do. First up was a walk through Fira. Settled at the top of some cliffs, you are offered some incredible views as you stroll through the town. There were plenty of restaurants and stores to wander through. What we came to realize in our time in Santorini was that given how the town is etched into the cliffs, almost everywhere you go has an incredible view over the water.

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Views

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Near our airbnb

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Santorini at sunset

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My favorite wall

The next day, along with Matt, we rented ATV’s and headed over to some black sand beaches. I have never been on ATV’s before Greece and really, really enjoyed riding around in the open air on these things. It’s the best way to explore the Greek islands. After the beaches, we rode 45 minutes over to Oía, the other main city on the island. We walked around the famous city streets and eventually headed down to the water so Matt and Adam could go cliff-jumping. After, we found a nice lunch spot.

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Black sand beach

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Snack break

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Oía

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Matt + Adam jumping off the cliff!

Another highlight was a boat tour to an active volcanic island and to some hot springs. We got to walk around the island, even seeing some smoking craters. Next up we boated to the island next door and jumped into the fairly cold water to swim towards the hot springs. Pretty quickly we realized a more accurate description would be “lukewarm springs” but we still had a good time spreading the “healing” mud all over our bodies!

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Exploring the volcanic island

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Santorini in the background

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Where the hot springs are

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Adam and I enjoyed a nice afternoon at Galini cafe playing cards and reading our books after a couple of action-filled days. We had said bye to Matt, who was supposed to fly to Rome that day BUT he got bumped from his flight and got “stuck” in Santorini one more night. Lucky for us he got put up in a super nice hotel on the other side of the island where all the beaches are. SO the next day (and our last day) Adam and I lugged our luggage over to his hotel to hang pool and beach side until our midnight flight to Athens. We really lucked out because this place was super nice and we were just able to relax all day.

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Sunscreen is important!

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Attempting to skip rocks

OVERALL THOUGHTS:

Santorini is awesome! Incredible views, incredible people, incredible sunsets. Such a picturesque place. It’s definitely not the cheapest place I went, but we had such a fun time exploring the island.

CITY: Athens

HOW LONG: 2 NIGHTS

ACCOMMODATION:

We stayed at Athens Backpackers and it was the perfect location. Adam and I were only here for one full day so it was critical to be centrally located. This place also had a guest kitchen and common room. The beds were comfy and there were lockers. They were connected to a bar, restaurant and a laundry facility so there were options to explore beyond just the common room. Definitely would stay here again.

WHERE TO EAT:

We only had the one day but we had 2 great finds. First off, to warn everyone, Athens restaurants were SO AGGRESSIVE at trying to lure in the tourists. Adam and I were harassed almost every where we went. It was overwhelming. But eventually we picked a restaurant and we ended up having a great meal with the first round of drinks on them 🙂

The more important find was a dessert place called Lukumades. They had these fresh, homemade donuts and they you could add ice cream + the donuts in a bowl. WOWOWOW it was good. We got two combos to split.

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Lukumades

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Apple filled with honey + cinnamon on top

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Chocolate on Chocolate on Chocolate

WHAT TO DO:

We started the day with a visit to the Acropolis. Pretty spectacular what the Greeks were able to build all those years ago. After walking around that site, we meandered through all the pedestrian friendly shopping streets before popping into the National Garden to soak up the sun and play some cards. The gardens had some interesting combos of animals in the park. One tiny pond had probably more than 50 turtles. There were goats and rabbits in the same pen. They had all sorts of birds. It was a crazy place haha.

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The Parthenon

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Exploring the Acropolis

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Ancient ruins feat. Adam

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National Gardens

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Adam checking out the sun dial

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approx. 1,000,000 turtles

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Walking through the park

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Beautiful purple trees

OVERALL THOUGHTS:

I went in with low expectations of Athens, and was quite pleasantly surprised! Adam and I had fun exploring Athens by foot and enjoyed everything except the harassment from the restaurants. I wouldn’t necessarily rush back to spend a ton more time in Athens, as there are other places I would rather go back to and obviously there even more places that I want to go that I haven’t been to! BUT I really liked my time in Athens.

Living in Spain- Thoughts

This post will be a little different as it is not about traveling, and rather it is about my time spent as an au pair with two different families in Spain! My first family was in Galicia, which is in the Northwest part of Spain, right on the Atlantic Ocean. No really, right on the water.

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Vilanova de Arousa

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Vilanova de Arousa at sunset

Everyday I would go for a walk or run along the waterfront. So beautiful.

I spent 4 weeks there with a lovely family with three kids. Twin girls who were 10 years old and a boy who was 16 years old.

My next family was just north of Barcelona in a town called Vilassar de Dalt. Lucky for me, there was a direct bus to downtown Barcelona that was just 35 minutes, making it easy to head in to meet friends. The house here was also near the coast, although the Mediterranean this time.

Can’t complain, this was waiting for me after a 2 mile run from my house!

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Vilassar de Mar

I spent 5 weeks with this family, which consisted of one girl who was 6 years old, one girl who was 8 years old, and one boy who was 12 years old. This family loves to ski so almost every weekend we went to their ski cabin in France! Such a fun time!

I had such amazing experiences with both families, but life is definitely different in Spain then it is in the States! I wanted to write about some of the fun/funny/strange differences 🙂 (Also just want to preface this with the fact that this is just my observations from living with two different families. In no way am I saying these observations are applicable to a greater population.)

Eating times

This is an obvious one but it is such a big one that I thought I would still mention it. Here’s roughly the eating schedule in Spain:

Breakfast- 7:30-8:00.

Snack- 11:00-11:30

Lunch- 2:00-3:30

Snack- 5:00-6:00

Dinner- 9:00-10:00

I definitely struggled with eating lunch and dinner so much later than what I’m used to. My stomach would often grumble around 12:30 and 7:30, so I would grab a piece of fruit or some crackers to tide me over.

Another difference when it comes to eating is that lunch in Spain is the big meal of the day, whereas in the States dinner is more often the important meal. In fact, in the middle of the day, often people stop working and go home to eat lunch with the whole family. There is a pause in the work day for 2-3 hours to eat lunch in your home. Lunch is the heavier meal with more meat and sides, and often 2-3 courses. Dinner in Spain tends to be lighter. My first family actually only ate sandwiches for dinner. Every night. Like they had the same thing every single night for dinner. After the first week, I started to make my own spinach salad instead of eating a sandwich everyday.

Food quirks:

Speaking of eating, they have some weird food habits. Although for them, they thought some of the things I do is weird too! One example is that the grandma of one of the families would always give the kids milk as part of their snack in the afternoon, which of course isn’t weird at all until you consider the fact that she would put sugar in it. And it wasn’t non-fat milk, it was WHOLE MILK. I repeat, SUGAR IN WHOLE MILK. For me that seems crazy as whole milk already so sweet and fatty, but I’m sure it is tasty.

Another example is surrounding cereal. The kids in my second family would eat their cereal either dry, as in without milk, or with hot milk, but never with cold milk. When they saw me put the milk on my cereal right out of the fridge their jaws dropped. I was so confused as I had never seen another way to eat cereal. I mean, cereal without milk I understand because it is sort of like a trail mix/snack thing, but hot milk in your Cheerios seems weird to me. Sometimes they would even put their hot Cola-Cao (which is like a powder chocolate milk mix) on their cereal. To me, it seemed strange, although I’m not knocking it because I’m sure it would be good.

Another new one for me was one of the dad’s loved his toast with olive oil and sugar. At first I was suspicious but after trying it, I really liked it.

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The mom of one family would make fresh squeezed orange juice and add some lemon and honey to it before heating it in the microwave for when one of the kids was sick. Sounds strange to me, hot orange juice, but after trying it, I absolutely love it. It is super soothing for a sore throat.

As for things the families often found weird about my eating, one was my love of peanut butter and how I put it on everything. Cereal, apples, bananas, carrots, toast, ice cream, you name it. Peanut butter is not very common in Spain, so most of the kids hadn’t even tried it before, but after trying it, all but one loved it! I even gave the twins from my first family a jar of peanut butter each for their 10th birthday, which I happened to be around for while I was staying with them. Also on a peanut butter note… I made PB&J’s for the kids and they took it for school as a snack. They loved it!!

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Assembling the PB&J’s

 

 

They thought it was weird that I put butter on untoasted bread. They always dip their bread in the sauce of whatever dish they were serving or in olive oil.

They thought it was weird that I put salt on everything from salads and soups, to meats. (America is wayyyyy addicted to salt)

One night my second family made beef and as a side dish they made apple puree (or apple sauce), but it was hot. At first I thought this was strange, but, once again, it ended up being tasty!

Pets:

Birds are very popular as pets because in small apartments in Barcelona, not much else fits. Dogs and cats are popular as well, but I noticed some interesting things about these pets. The most obvious and interesting one for me was that the German Shepard at my first house was not allowed inside the house. As in, it was kept outside 100% of the time. For me this is so strange! Even when there were thunderstorms and even when it was cold, he was kept outside. It also meant interactions with the dog were minimal as the only time spent with dog was when we left the house or were arriving. I think the whole month I was there they took him on 2 walks. The whole thing made me sad because my dogs are such an important part of my daily life. Whether I am walking them, or snuggling with them, I spend a significant amount of time with them. Also they fed him whatever human food we didn’t finish including bones or chocolate, which made me uncomfortable because depending on the type, they both are dangerous for a dog. But alas, different customs I guess. Also, there are a significant number of stray dogs and cats in both places I lived, although less stray dogs in my second town. I know this does happen in the US as well, but where I live I rarely see a stray dog and most cats I see are just outside cats, rather than stray cats.

Zapatillas (slippers):

Both families would take off their shoes as soon as they enter their house and put on zapatillas. They never were barefoot or walked around with shoes on. When I told them at my house, everyone either wore their “outside shoes” or were barefoot they were shocked. I always forget to put on my zapatillas so sometimes I would just be wearing my socks and the mom of my first mom would say that I would get sick without wearing my zapatillas. I figured in my head that if for the first 22 years of my life I managed without zapatillas then I would manage to not get sick the month I was there- and I was right- but as often as I could I would try to remember to wear my zapatillas.

Cleaning:

It was clearly quite important to both families that the house was always clean. And obviously that’s not a bad or unique thing, but it felt more important than what I have seen in my experiences in the States. I mean, my family has someone who cleans the house every week or every other week, so I can appreciate having a clean home. But one of my families had someone come EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. to clean the entire home. This seemed a bit excessive to me. The other family had me vacuum and dust every single day. I didn’t mind doing it, of course, but it just seemed again a bit excessive. Another difference that I think might affect this behavior is that I’ve noticed a lack of carpets in Spain. Homes here tend to have a few rugs here and there, but in general it’s all hard floors, whether it is hardwood or concrete. This means dust and dirt is more visible and gets onto your feet more, as opposed the carpet which sort of ends up absorbing the dust and dirt. My house is certainly a higher percentage carpet than it is hardwood.

Playdates:

I don’t know if this is applicable generally to Spain or if I just got two families that don’t participate in this, but in my 9 weeks total with Spanish families there was not one playdate. The only time a kid came over to one of the houses was a birthday party for the twins in my first family. I asked the families about this and their replies were similar: Time away from school and work is for family time. Interesting right? This is so different to my experience growing up where almost every day I had some sort of playdate where I was going to someone’s house or someone was coming to mine. Not only was it great for the kids, it allowed parents some extra time to get stuff done. I never really met any of the friends of the 6 kids I au paired for. Sort of strange to me.

Vacations:

With my two families, it seemed vacations were for the entire family or no one. For example, when I told my first family that growing up sometimes my parents took a weekend away just the two of us or that in the past 7 years, vacations are spent with some combination of the family (as in sometimes my sister isn’t there, or sometimes my dad misses it), they again were shocked. To them, vacation is for the whole family. They don’t want to spend time with one family member missing. Between the playdates and vacations, my takeaway is that the family unit is very strong in Spain. They value spending time as a full unit and don’t want anyone outside the family a part of it. It’s not time for friends or other groups- just family. In my experience, once my sister and I were a little older, we almost always brought friends on vacation with us, or we went with family friends, so again just a slightly different way of doing things.

Family:

On the theme of family, extended family seemed to be much more involved in the daily life compared to my experiences growing up. Both families had one set of grandparents living about a 5-minute walk away. Often part of the daily routine was having a snack at the grandparent’s house before Grandpa would take some of the kids to an extracurricular such as track and field or music class. They pitched in to help with the grandkids on a daily/weekly basis. In my experience growing up, while I definitely saw my grandparents a decent amount because luckily they lived in the next town over, they weren’t part of the daily routine. Obviously, if my parents needed help in a pinch, my grandparents would help out, but like I said, they weren’t part of the daily routine. In fact, the mom of my second family had grown up in downtown Barcelona, but once married she moved out to the town they live in currently. Her parents, who had lived in Barcelona their entire lives, followed her and bought a house a five-minute walk away to be closer to their daughter and future grandkids.

 

Anyway, these are just some of my thoughts and observations after living in Spain for just 9 weeks. Like I said at the beginning, I’m not saying these observations are applicable to all of Spain, just what I noticed after living with two families! Hope you enjoyed reading this!