Munich, Germany

When we were first planning our trip throughout Europe last summer, Munich was one of the cities on our list. I had never been to Germany and heard that Munich was a city with great bike infrastructure which I thought would be fun to explore with the kids. Then when it came to figuring out details, the flights there from our other destinations were surprisingly expensive and we were also short on days since we wanted to be able to spend at least a week in each place, so we had to cut it from our itinerary.

When some friends of ours from back home decided to spend a few months in Munich for the fall, we decided to go visit them so that the kids could spend time with friends and visit another country. Their time there didn’t overlap with any of our school vacations, but there was one week in December with two school holidays, and the school said it would be fine for them to miss a few days to be able to visit Germany.

Our first impression of Munich was that it was cold! Perhaps we had become thin-skinned Spaniards in just a few months. We managed to find many indoor activities and also spent a lot of time bundled up outdoors. We were there during Christmas Market time and those were always fun with lots of sweet treats for the kids and occasional carolers. One was one just a block away from our Airbnb apartment and we went there many evenings for gluehwein and funnel cakes.

Katiemarket

We also took advantage of being in a cold climate to take the kids ice skating. Our kids play hockey back in the U.S. and were missing ice skating. There was an outdoor rink at Karlsplatz which had decent quality rental skates and also fun bear-shaped supports for beginner skaters to hold onto. Even our confident skaters had some fun playing around with those.
Ivyskate

We went out to eat one day at Hofbraühaus, which is a famous historical beer hall. The place was enormous and also very crowded but we managed to get a table large enough for our group. We bought bready pretzels to snack on while waiting for the main meal to arrive, and were able to find food that everyone liked. They sell beer there in very large quantities and my husband and I split an enormous liter mug of beer. Quite different from in Spain where the typical serving of beer (called a caña) is just a small glass.

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Our favorite indoor destination was the Deutsches Museum. We spent several hours there and still had only seen a small portion of it. It had a fun play area for kids and many interesting and interactive exhibits. We also went to BMW Welt where the boys participated in a workshop on building cars. Our daughter and her friend were too young to participate in the workshop, but they had a fun time in the building which was an enormous car and motorcycle showroom with lots to keep them entertained.

We really enjoyed Munich overall and found it an easy place to travel with a family. English was widely spoken and we even got to see the original version of Sing! at a movie theater that shows movies in English. The city had a very international feel to it and we found good Thai food, which we had been missing back in Spain. It was easy to get around by public transportation, although since it is a big city some of the trips were quite long. The bike infrastructure also looked very good, although we didn’t end up renting bikes since one of my kids had recently broken his arm. Being there during December was really fun, but I’d love to go back to the area during warmer weather at some point and explore the Black Forest and other parts of Bavaria.

 

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Marrakesh, Morocco

Schools in Spain are closed for the week before Easter, and we wanted to take advantage of this time to do another trip with the kids. They had already seen nine European countries and many different parts of Spain, so we decided to do a trip where they would get exposed to a different culture. At first I was thinking Thailand, but the weather for April looked incredibly hot. Then I found a direct flight to Tokyo with reasonably priced tickets, but was worried about how long a trip that would be on my own, since my husband returned to the U.S. for work in mid-March and would be meeting us at our destination. While I was thinking about it the ticket prices rose, and I also read that being vegetarian can be difficult in Japan, so I started to think through other options. I went onto my favorite site for planning trips, Google Flights, and put in flights from Spain to “anywhere” for this week, and then checked out non-European destinations with reasonable prices and short flight times. Israel was a frontrunner until I realized we’d be there during Passover, and after a bit of research, decided this wouldn’t be a good idea since it is when many Israelis take vacations so prices are all very high and tourist destinations are very busy. Various cities in Morocco had short flights with good prices on budget airlines, so after a bit more research we had flights booked to Marrakesh.

Even though the flight was short and easy, when we arrived at the airport we had a long wait for border control and then had to wait in another long, long line to have our bags checked upon leaving the airports. Our best guess based on the questions they asked us is that the purpose of this is because they are looking for drones. It all took quite a while and one of my kids had already decided that he hated Morocco. Thankfully his opinion would change soon, and eventually we left the airport and found the driver who had been sent from our rented house for us.

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Heading into the Medina with a cart to carry our luggage and 4-year-old

I looked on Airbnb for housing and was focused on the Medina, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The word Medina is used in many North African cities for an area of the city with walls around it and narrow streets. We ended up renting a riad for the week, which is a traditional Moroccan style house with a courtyard in the middle. Usually when we travel we have to choose between having a house that has a lot space for a family of six or a house in a good location. Due to the low prices in Morocco, this time we had both. We could step outside our door to shop at stands for bottled water or traditional souks, and the house we rented was incredible with four large bedrooms, lots of outdoor space, and a small pool. The best part was that it came with a staff who cleaned every day, cooked breakfast for us, and, for a small additional fee, prepared and served Moroccan style dinners every night. Anyone who has traveled with kids knows that a week without planning meals, cooking, or cleaning is an actual vacation for the parents. The whole experience felt like luxury but the week there cost us less than we’ve paid to stay in most other places on our travels, due to the low cost of living in Morocco.

 

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Ready for dinner at our riad

Our Airbnb host told us that Marrakesh wasn’t a city with a lot of sights, but more just a place to soak up the atmosphere. Most of the time we went for short walks nearby and checked out the souks and the main square where there were trained monkeys and snake charmers. My daughter loved finding cats hiding in various places throughout the Medina, and all the kids got excited whenever we saw a bread cart selling fresh Berber bread, which they ate multiple times a day. The area of the Medina where we stayed was car free and donkeys and carts seemed to be the primary means of hauling things through the area, although there were also frequently scooters zipping through the narrow streets. We kept the kids close and made sure the little ones were always closer to the side of the road than we were so they wouldn’t accidentally step into the path of an oncoming scooter. Other than the terrifying scooters, we felt very safe walking around the city and just use our normal travel common sense (i.e. not having valuables behind us in a backpack). The streets always had a mix of locals and tourists and it is clearly a city that is used to tourism and wants to keep people coming. On the streets we heard Arabic, French, Spanish, and English all being spoken.

Even though there weren’t as many sights as in the European cities we have visited, there were still plenty of things to see during our time there. One day we walked to the photography museum, which had old photos of Morocco that were very interesting. I had been curious about seeing historical pictures of Marrakech, since the Medina appeared to me to not have changed much. It was one of the few places we have traveled where we didn’t see modern stores, such as the typical American chains that seem to be in nearly every city. In the photography museum we could see that the Medina looked very much the same back then, though what they sold in the souks was different since they were catering to locals rather than the tourist market like today.

Another day we walked a mile to see the Bahia Palace. My kids are good walkers and can usually walk a mile quite easily, but I hadn’t taken into consideration that we’d be walking through the Medina with the crowds and crazy motorcycles, so it took a lot longer than expected and they were not in the best of moods when we arrived. My kids really liked the Alcazar and Alhambra when we visited Andalucía, but after seeing those they were not very impressed with the Bahia Palace. I thought the ceilings were interesting, however. After that we walked over the Lazama Synagogue which I thought was one of the most interesting places we went. When we traveled through Andalucía we had all learned about the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, and it was interesting to hear that many of them came to Morocco and to think about a society where Jews and Muslims lived together for hundreds of years. There still is a Jewish population in Morocco, but it has dwindled as tensions between the ethnic groups have risen in other parts of the world. Many moved to Israel after it was founded in 1948, and there are now about a million Moroccan Jews in Israel.

After visiting the synagogue, we went to the Badi Palace, which are the ruins of a palace from hundreds of years ago. It was moderately interesting, and there were nice views of the city from one of the upper floors. By this point in the day, it was getting hot and the kids were tired. We found a way back on a street that actually had sidewalks and then stopped in the Jemaa al-Fna square, which is the main square that was near where we were staying. We had strategically planned an ice cream stop at our favorite local ice cream place, Oriental Legend, which had some flavors with unique local tastes as well as standard favorites, and, most importantly, multiple dairy free options for our kid with a serious lactose intolerance.

Another day we went back to the square and got a horse carriage for a ride up to another site, Majorelle Garden. This is apparently a very popular site since there was a line to buy tickets which took about 45 minutes. I found a quiet shady spot to watch cats with the kids, who were getting grumpy, so I taught them the geography game where you have to name a place and then the next person names a different place that starts with the last letter of the previous place. For example, Amsterdam, Madrid, Denmark, etc. Surprisingly this worked to keep them all engaged for the wait (well, not my youngest, but she was happy watching the cats). The gardens were very nice with a wide variety of different plants and there was a small Berber museum inside where we learned more about the history of this subculture within Morocco.

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One of the flatter stretches where I felt comfortable getting a picture

One day, we went on a day trip and got to see even more of the Berber culture. Marrakesh Day Trips had a large number of offerings for different trips, some of them overnight, but they involved a lot of driving and I know my kids don’t have much patience for long car trips, so we booked the one with the least amount of time spent in the car. We had a guide who met us at the house and drove us 1.5 hours away to Imlil in the Atlas Mountains, where we still saw some tourists but was definitely a completely different world than Marrakech. This is one of the areas where the Berber people live, and they have their own language that they speak other than Arabic. It was amazing to me that we could travel such a short distance to a place with a very different language and culture. In the village we were given mules. Our guide stayed down in the village and four Berber men guided us (well, really the mules) up the mountain. My 4-year-old daughter rode with my husband but the other kids each had their own mule. I knew the trip involved going to the mountains and riding mules, but I didn’t quite realize that we were going to be riding the mule up the mountain. I wanted to take pictures of the kids riding but realized I need both my hands to hold onto my mule as we went up steep switchbacks into the mountains. The kids handled it all well, and eventually we arrived at a restaurant for lunch. It seemed very traditional in this area, and the TripAdvisor decal on the restaurant window looked quite out of place. On our ride we also saw local kids heading home from school who were dressed in earth tones that blended into the scenery, with the exception of brightly colored backpacks featuring Disney characters. After lunch we headed back down the mountain again on the mules, which was also quite steep, though there were some parts that were calm enough for me to take a few pictures. The kids were quieter on the way home and we were back at our riad by 5pm.

 

By far the kids’ favorite day was the day we went to Oasiria, which is waterpark just a few miles outside the city. We bought tickets in advance online since there was an early season discount and it cost just about $70 for the six of us. There was a free shuttle bus from near where we were staying, but the location wasn’t quite clear from the map, so my husband scouted it out ahead of time and found out that it stopped right outside the parking area for the Koutoubia mosque.

With kids ages 4 through 12, sometimes it can be hard to find things they all like, but they all love waterslides. They had only been to indoor waterparks at this point, such as Great Wolf Lodge, and we were all pretty impressed by Oasiria. It was very green with lots of grassy lawns to sprawl out on and interesting landscaping. There were many different slides and pools and a lazy river. I imagine it would have been different during the high season, but it was not at all crowded so my kids never had to wait in line for the slides. They don’t allow you to bring in outside food but we had a decent lunch at the sit down restaurant there where we were able to find food my vegetarian lactose intolerant kid could eat. There were also less expensive waffle and crepe stands around. We all had a great day and there were many tears when it was time to leave. We probably should have saved this trip for our last day there, since they asked to go back repeatedly.

The kids were very sad at the end of our trip and decided that Morocco had been the best family vacation ever. I found that it was the perfect balance of culture, relaxation, and fun outings, all for a very reasonable price. We likely won’t return to Morocco since it is much more difficult to get there from the U.S., but I know we will all remember this trip.

Spring Updates

The kids recently finished up their second trimester of school, so I wanted to take some videos to document their Spanish progression. We are very pleased with how all of their language skills have developed from the beginning, and they are all very settled into their lives here in Spain. We have booked our tickets back to the U.S. for the end of June, so they are also starting to think a lot about going “home” now and are preparing for that transition.

The 4-year-old is the most settled in in Spain. She remembers very little of our lives before and loves her school, friends, and extra curricular activities. She does not want to hear anything about transitioning into a new school in September so we haven’t been talking about it much. I have been told that she speaks Spanish like a native speaking child, and we have noticed that she sometimes can’t find the words she needs when speaking English at home and will ask us to translate from the Spanish to English with her, even when they are words I am sure she knew in English before (slide, butterfly, sing, etc.). If we were planning to stay in Spain long term, I would be worried about keeping up with English, but I know she will get it all back quickly. We have also noticed some occasional funny speech patterns in English where she is translating from Spanish. If you ask her in English whether she likes speaking Spanish or English better, she will say “the two” which doesn’t make sense in English but is a direct translation of the correct answer in Spanish, “los dos.” She will also say things like, “the house of Pedro” instead of “Pedro’s house” which is again a direct translation of the phrasing in Spanish. I have two videos of her posted below, since the first one she was in a grumpy mood and not wanting to respond to interview style questions, but I managed to get a second one where she was feeling chattier and wanted to talk about our vacation to Morocco.

The 7-year-old is also very settled in and completely comfortable with the language. I asked him if he felt different than the other kids because he was from a different country, and he said he felt just like all the other Spanish kids in his class. He says he is equally comfortable speaking both languages, though his reading and writing skills are definitely stronger in Spanish right now. He and his younger sister speak almostly exclusively in English at home, but if they are playing at a park around Spanish kids they usually speak Spanish to each other. He continues to receive excellent grades in school, although is sometimes overwhelmed by the testing culture here which is based on memorizing and regurgitating information. We once forgot to study for a science test and he got a grade that he wasn’t happy with and came home and cried and cried despite my insistence that I didn’t really care that he didn’t know all the parts of a flower in Spanish. So it will be nice for him to transition back into the U.S. school system where there are more varied forms of assessment used in the early grades.

The 10-year-old had the toughest time initially but is now doing fine and is settled in. He is always aware that he is different than the Spanish kids and surprisingly is still quite shy speaking to peers in Spanish since he worries they will make fun of him if he messes up, even though he is with a really nice group of kids. His personality when speaking Spanish is completely different than when he speaks English, and when we got together with some Spanish kids who had lived in the U.S. and spoke English I saw his extroverted, chatty personality come out again for the first time in months. His language skills have definitely developed and he is comfortable speaking to teachers and participating in class. He has friends that he talks to a bit but it seems like most of his interactions with other kids revolve around sports, and he does not have an active social life outside of school. He is happy enough living in Spain but is also feeling ready to return to the U.S., mostly because he misses my sister’s dog.

The 12-year-old is doing pretty well, but has been having more “the grass is always greener” moments lately and is feeling ready to move back and see his friends back home. Although I am also sure there will be things and people he misses in Spain when we are back. He gets together with Spanish friends regularly and, like most kids his age, is very focused on peer relationships right now. His language skills seem extremely strong to me and multiple adults have commented that he is very articulate in Spanish and has an excellent vocabulary.

Since the 10 and 12-year-old are in higher grade levels, they are leaving with much more advanced Spanish skills than the younger kids, even though the younger ones are more on par with their Spanish peers in terms of language ability. I can’t tell if the older ones still have American accents, but I’m pretty sure at least the oldest one does since, like me, he has not mastered the double rr roll. I have heard occasional grammatical errors from them so I think they are not quite native speakers at this point, though perhaps getting close to it. Of course this is a little hard for me to evaluate since their language skills have been developing much faster than mine during our time in Spain!

Muslim Contributions to Modern Society

Watching Donald Trump win the presidential election last November made our family worry a lot about the future of our country. My kids were upset the next morning, and the thing I told them to reassure them was, “Our family will be fine. Other people will not be. And that is not right.” At the time, it seemed clear that Muslims were one group that would likely not be fine during a Trump presidency, and the recent news of travel bans out of our country has confirmed this.

During the long 2+ week vacation over Christmas, our family traveled through Andalucía, a region in Southern Spain that was once inhabited by many Muslims until they were expelled from the country (along with the Jews) in 1492. I knew we would be seeing many examples of Muslim influence, such as the Alhambra in Granada. Since my kids had such a long break from school and since they haven’t had much experience writing in English this year, I decided to assign them some homework to read a couple books and then write an essay about Muslims. We read The Genius of Islam and Growing Up Muslim and then they each wrote an essay about what they had learned. They both decided to write about Muslim contributions to modern society, and you can read their essays below.

12-year-old’s Essay

Muslims have made many contributions to the modern day world, but few of us realize how much the Muslims have helped us in coming this far through the ages. Muslims have made many contributions in many fields, but some of the most important are the development of a healthy population through the intricate health systems that they created, sometimes known as a “Healthy Hierarchy.” Muslims made astounding and advanced leaps forward in the growing of plants and the creation of food using many strategies and techniques to progress through the ever-growing amount of hunger in the world at their time. Some people are amazed to know that Muslims introduced the crank to the modern world, used in many mechanical structures. These are some of the few contributions that the Muslim population has made to our ever-growing world.

Muslims improved the world standards of health and medicine by creating a new system of treatment and medicine distribution that was used throughout the Muslim population. Instead of using the traditional door-to-door doctor system, Muslims made major health centers, later known as hospitals. These public buildings were designed to treat the sick through the different stages, such as treatment and recovery. Muslims had specialized doctors working around the clock at their hospitals to improve the patient’s condition. Instead of having many treatment doctors all in the general field of medicine, hospitals consisted of many different groups, such as trauma treatment and pharmaceutical centers which provided medicine for the sick. This surpassed all medical practices of the 16th century, and we continue to use this method of healthcare up to this day.

Food and hunger where major problems in the 16th century, and Muslims found a way to reduce worldwide hunger using advanced methods of farming and agriculture. Instead of only growing wheat and other native foods, Muslims used their vast territory as an advantage against hunger and started farms in almost every growing climate they had under their rule. This provided new tropical foods, and also let them grow more of basic foods such as wheat. Because of their advanced agricultural community, Muslims could combat world hunger on a new level.

Many people have seen or ridden on a merry-go-round, but few people know that the Muslims invented the key mechanism to this attraction, which is now known as the crank. The way the crank works is it converts rotational energy into power, using a long rod with notches in it in the merry-go-round. The rod will spin, and the wires attached to the notches will go up and down with the rotation of the axle. This is also used in oil derricks and steam powered trains in different ways, but all of these mechanisms use the crank. As you can tell, our life would be much harder without this ingenious Muslim invention.

Muslims have created many things in the modern world, such as the idea of Californian orange juice, the invention of the crank, and the creation of the hospital. This is why Muslims are such an important culture in this world, and why it is important to appreciate all of their contributions.

10-year-old’s Essay

Muslim people were very important. They made important changes to the world. Muslims found out what simple machines are. They made what the numbers look like today. Muslims made paper and lots of creations with it. Muslims were very important to the world because they made a lot of contributions to the world

One contribution that Muslims did to the world was that they made paper and different creations with it. They made different types of paper like cardstock, construction paper and more. They needed paper to write things so that they wouldn’t forget them. After a bit, they started making books to entertain and share things. That is the history of Muslim paper.

Another contribution that Muslims made to the world is that they made the first numbers and changed the look of the numbers every century or so. They finally found numbers that everyone agreed to. Those are the numbers that we have today. They made up the operations multiplication, division, subtraction and addition. They also made algebra. That is how Muslims made math.

The last contribution that Muslims made to the world is that Muslims discovered simple machines. They discovered the pulley, the lever and much more. Muslims found out that these would make life easier by making simple machines. They spread this theory around Europe and the rest of the world. That is how people found out how to use simple machines.

That is how Muslims are important to the world. As you can see, they have made a lot of important changes to the world. They found out how to use and make simple machines. They also made a lot of changes to math. They made paper and different types of it. Hopefully you learned a lot about Muslims.

Extracurriculars

Back home in the US, our life as a family of six can feel pretty busy. The kids are all involved in seasonal sports and weekends sometimes feel like we are just running everyone around to their games and practices. However, we generally just do one sport at a time, and usually our weekday afternoons are pretty quiet with a lot of downtime and time to get together with friends.

In Spain, kids get out of school at 2pm, which means there is a lot of free time in the afternoons. Since our goal was full immersion in the language and culture here, we decided to sign them up for a lot of extra curricular activities. Thankfully, this has all been very convenient and easy to manage, as well as extremely inexpensive by US standards.

Here are the activities each kid is involved in:

4-year-old: Music and Movement, Soccer, Swimming Lessons, and Rollerblading

7-year-old: Soccer, Tennis, Swimming Lessons, and Rollerblading

10-year-old: Soccer, Tennis, and Rollerblading

12:-year-old: Judo, Tennis, Fencing, Rollerblading, Trombone (starting soon)

 

School Activities

Directly across the street from us is a Catholic school that our kids do not attend, but opens their extra curricular activities to children from other schools. They have extensive offerings there and two days a week our kids do all their activities there, which is incredibly convenient. The activities we do there are:

Music and Movement – Singing and dancing class for 4 and 5-year-old kids that our daughter attends twice a week. Our daughter is more interested in sports than this type of activity, but we thought the extra language exposure provided in a music class would be beneficial, and she seems to enjoy it. We pay 45 euros a month for this.

Rollerblading – Our kids play hockey back home and found their skills transferred over pretty well to rollerblades, so they signed up for the advanced skating class which takes place in the gym or patio. They are mostly playing different games and racing on skates during this hour-long class that they attend twice a week. The class is for ages 6-12, but when my oldest broke his arm I asked if his younger sister could temporarily take his place, so our 4-year-old has joined as well and skates well enough to keep up with the big kids. We pay 30 euros a month per kid.

Judo – Our oldest son had expressed some interest in wrestling before we arrived, and when I realized Judo was offered right across the street I thought he may want to give a it a try. He liked it so much that he decided to attend classes there 3 days a week, which costs us 38 euros a month.

 

Fencing and Trombone

Our 12-year-old also attends a fencing class which takes place about a 10 minute walk from our house. He goes once a week and we pay 10 euros a month. He will be starting up trombone lessons soon, now that he finally has an instrument. We attempted to ship his trombone from the US in September but it got lost in the mail and we eventually gave up on it and bought him a new one here. We have an instructor lined up to start with him soon in a couple weeks, and I am guessing the cost will be 10-15 euros per hour.

 

City Sports Complex

The kids do tennis and swimming at the main city sports complex which is about a 5-10 minute bike ride from our house. It is an incredible campus that includes multiple swimming pools, tennis courts, basketball courts, a gym, paddle tennis courts, etc. When we first arrived, we signed up for a monthly family membership which allowed free usage of the pools, but afterwards converted it to an annual membership since we made good use of it. The family membership cost about 400 euros for the year. This does not include use of the tennis courts, but we can reserve these when we want for 4 euros an hour.

The three boys are taking weekend group tennis classes on Saturday and Sunday. We had to pay for the first two kids at a rate of 60 euros per kid per quarter (about 10 weeks), but then the third kid was free since we had two kids already enrolled. We will often reserve the court for the hour after their lesson and play as a family.

I wasn’t planning on putting the kids in swimming lessons in Spain, but we were spending a lot of time at the pool and I realized that lessons were going on during the hours we were already there, so I ended up signing the younger two kids up for swimming lessons. The rate was similar to tennis for twice weekly lessons, but when I went to pay I was told that they were both free since we only had to pay for the first two kids enrolled in any sports programs there. There are many benefits like this available for large families in Spain.

 

Soccer

The three younger kids are all playing soccer, which is Spain’s national sport and also the most popular activity at recess. They had all played soccer sporadically in the US, but it wasn’t a favorite sport for them so other activities usually took priority. Our oldest tried playing here during the first few weeks, but found that the age level he was in was a bit too advanced for him and the older kids were not very welcoming of a newcomer, so he decided to focus on other sports instead.

There are several differences between soccer in the US and soccer in Spain

  1. We are used to having a short soccer season of about 10 weeks in the spring or fall. Here, soccer is a yearlong commitment and they play from September to May, which is possible due to the warmer climate. The younger two kids practice for an hour twice a week and our 10-year-old practices for 90 minutes twice a week. Thankfully they all practice at the same time which makes it easier logistically.
  1. We are used to volunteer parent coaches but soccer is mostly run by professional clubs with paid coaches. There are a few schools which seem to also have teams as part of their after school programs, but the vast majority of teams are from one of the many local clubs.
  1. Our kids have always played in the low-key town soccer programs where they have received a team t-shirt and that is all. Here, they receive uniforms for practice and games, as well as additional gear. They each have a short sleeve/shorts practice uniform, a long sleeve/pants practice uniform, a separate game uniform which includes a shirt, shorts, and socks, and they also received a warm jacket with the team logo on it that they are supposed to wear to practices and games during the colder months. One of our kids plays goalie and got a separate shirt in a different color for games. The other surprising thing about gear is that no one wears shin guards here.
  1. For one, practices start way before games. They started practicing in September and our 10-year-old didn’t have his first game until early November and our 7-year-old started at the end of November. For the youngest division, which our 4-year-old is in, they just organize small matches within the club. Games are also very official and organized by the city. Kids needing to show ID cards before each game. Parent culture is definitely a bit more intense here, but not as bad as I was expecting. However, our 7-year-old goalie apparently heard a parent loudly criticizing his goalie skills after he let a goal in. Thankfully I didn’t hear it.
  1. Somehow soccer has not really caught on among girls in Spain. The teams our kids are on are technically coed and a few girls do play, but it seems like most teams are all boys with only a few having a girl or two playing. This probably is not creating a great culture for girl soccer players. Our 4-year-old is very comfortable playing with boys so I didn’t anticipate this being an issue for her. However, after the first session all the kids in her 4-5 year old age group switched their schedules and she was the only one left. She ended up joining her brother’s team of 6-7 year old boys for practices, which has worked out surprisingly well. The boys in the group are so sweet with her and cheer her on whenever it is her turn, and she is comfortable playing with them in the little scrimmages.
  1. Age ranges. Most town soccer programs in the U.S. just go up through middle school ages since after that kids play high school sports. Sports and academics are mostly separate in Spain, so the youth sports clubs go all the way up until 18. They are broken into two-year ranges based on birthyear, so kids born in 2005 and 2006 together form the category known as Alevin, for example. It seems that when kids get to around high school age, there are separate teams for girls.
  1. It’s hard to compare the cost to US soccer since the amount of playing time and included gear is so different. For each kid we paid a 120 euro registration fee which I assume covered the cost of all the clothes they got initially. The monthly cost after that is similar to other activities, about 40 euros a month, although there is a small discount for the second sibling and the third enrolled sibling is half price.

 

Adult Extracurriculars

Clearly the kids have been keeping busy with activities, but the adults in the family have been quite busy as well. My husband is mostly busy with work. He is keeping the same schedule as his Boston colleagues so he works from about 3pm-11pm every day. I am taking the year off from my regular job, but have been teaching an online graduate school class which has no set schedule, so I can do work at any time of day.

My main priority during my time in Spain is to improve my level of Spanish. I studied Spanish in high school and college and had continued to work on it sporadically as an adult, but always felt like I still lacked confidence in communicating. I have connected with several people in my city who want to work on their English, and we have regular language exchanges in our homes or in cafes where we each get to practice speaking and listening. I generally have at least one of these language exchanges per day, and I am gradually noticing an improvement in my ability to understand when people speak quickly or when two Spaniards are speaking to each other. The kids’ progress has definitely been much faster, however.

For further practice with the language, I recently signed up for an African literature book club which meets at the public library right near our home twice a month. Reading in Spanish has always been a relative strength of mine, but it is still definitely a challenge to read entire novels in Spanish and has helped me learn new vocabulary and internalize some of the grammar.

My husband is also working on Spanish, though he has never studied it formally so had a pretty low level of Spanish when we arrived. He enrolled in a morning class which meets twice a week at a local adult education center and has been making very good progress.

I also signed up for tennis classes which meet three times a week at the nearby sports complex, which has been a great way to develop both my tennis skills and my language skills. My husband swims at the pool while I am playing tennis.

All the members of our family are keeping very busy in Spain, and we have found that participating in these activities helps us to feel even more connected to our local community. We also love that we are able to easily walk or ride bikes to all of our activities. Transitioning back to the U.S. and our minivan full of hockey bags in the back will be a big adjustment for us next year.

City Living

Our family has been very happy living in Spain. People have been very friendly and we have been enjoying experiencing a new culture and food. Of all the things we love about living here, the thing we love the best is the experience of living in a city.

We technically live in a city back in the U.S. Our city has over 100,000 people, is incredibly diverse, and has a decent public transportation network. We can do some errands on foot or on bike, and generally do not use our car on a daily basis since we both commute by bike. Yet somehow, in the U.S., everything is still so far away compared to in our city in Spain. We do live in a part of the city in the U.S. that is a little more spread out, but even when we lived more in the central part of the city it was still easier to get in the car and drive to the grocery store than do many errands on foot.

Where we live now has a walk score of 100 (compared to 72 where we live in the U.S.). There is a grocery store right at the corner, less than a minute walk on foot. You know that feeling of coming back from the grocery store and realizing you forgot one thing on your shopping list? No big deal here – we just head right back over or send a kid out with a few Euros.

We also live a short walk away from a bakery, and our two older boys alternate walking there every morning at 8am to buy breakfast for our family and fresh bread for the day, which usually costs 4-5 euros altogether. They have gotten quite used to fresh croissants and baguettes and recently asked if we would continue this tradition when we got back to the U.S., but unfortunately there the nearest bakery is over a mile away and those items would cost over 20 dollars a day.

Back home in the U.S., we do have a couple schools within a reasonable walking distance, but we chose to send them to the Spanish immersion school so riding the bus is a part of their daily routine. Here, we walk about five minutes through a park to get to their school, and I’ve been enjoying being able to drop them off and pick them up every day, which isn’t an option in the U.S. due to my work schedule. There are actually about five schools closer to our house than the one our kids attend, so we could have an even shorter commute, but the school we are at had spaces for all four kids and we are very happy there.

I will write a separate post about the kids’ after school activities, but they are all very convenient as well. Many of them occur at the Catholic school directly across the street from us, and other days we ride our bikes for 5-10 minutes to the sports complex near the edge of the city for swimming, tennis, and soccer. The city we live in is dedicated to bike infrastructure and there are off road bike paths the whole way there, which means that even my 7-year-old can ride safely.

In addition to groceries, nearly any shopping we have to do can be accomplished within just a few minutes walk. When a kid comes home from school and says “I need a paintbrush for school tomorrow,” I just send him out to the stationary store at the corner. When a kid comes home from school with a huge hole in a sneaker, we walk a block away and are back home within 15 minutes (including trying on shoes and paying). When I get a craving for something sweet at 10pm, there is a frozen yogurt store right around the corner. That one is a little dangerous.

It’s not just shopping that is so accessible. The largest library in the city is just a couple minutes away, and there is a hospital and medical office within just a few minutes walk. This is where the kids see their pediatrician and where we went to see a specialist and get follow up X-rays when our oldest broke his arm on a weekend trip away. I feel like it would be possible to live for years without traveling outside of a 5-block radius of our apartment.

Our apartment is also very close to the center of nightlife in our city, an area called “La Zona” which is where people from all over the province come for bachelor parties and nights out. Since our oldest is a responsible 12-year-old we feel comfortable leaving him in charge of his siblings for short stretches of time, so when my husband has a break in his work schedule in the evening we will go out for tapas and drinks at one of the many taperias within a 1-2 minute walk. When my husband is traveling and I want a break from cooking the large midday meal, we’ll stop at home to drop off backpacks after school and then head out to one of the many restaurants within a couple minutes where we can get a meal for the five of us for about 20 euros.

Our older boys are also enjoying the freedom they have here. There is a candy store and a seasonal ice cream store just a minute away, which they like to walk to on their own for an occasional treat. They can ride their bikes back and forth to the sports complex, which means they are not stuck there waiting for the siblings to finish up swim lessons after their own activities have ended.

In addition to everything being so nearby, there is also a small town feel here and we feel known by the local retailers. If our kids get to the bakery in the morning and realize they are short on money, they can make it up the next day. When I bring my daughter to the shoe store in December to buy new shoes, the woman there remembers that she sold us soccer cleats in August and asks my daughter how soccer is going. When a screw falls off the rack for the child seat on my bike making it unsafe, I head to the hardware store the next morning where the person working there helps me figure out what is wrong, find the right size screw, makes sure I replaced it correctly, and then refuses to let me pay anything. Our kids feel known in their community here, and little things like the woman at the fruit store asking how they liked the melon they had picked out a few days ago, or knowing that the woman at the bakery near the soccer field will know exactly which donut they want for a treat after practice, mean quite a lot to them.

We have also really been enjoying the excellent rail network in Spain. We live about half a mile from the train station in our city and from there we can travel by a direct train to many other cities. The city we are living in is not a tourist destination at all, but we have been able to travel to many other places for weekend trips during our time here so far, and have plans for more travel in the coming months. Train travel is also very reasonably priced, especially since there is a 20% discount for those who have a familia numerosa card (a government issued card available to residents who have families with three or more children).

We really have not missed having a car at all, and the few times we have had a rental car it has been a huge hassle to deal with parking. The only time we wished we had a car was when we were planning a birthday party for our older boys at a park a little outside the city. Many birthday parties here are held at this park which is easy to get to on bike, but not with all the food and supplies required for a birthday party. We had rented a van for the afternoon, but then had the reservation cancelled after we had sent out invitations. However, we were easily able to arrange a ride from party guests who lived near us who were able to help us bring all the food there, and many other people have told me to let them know if I ever need a ride somewhere.

We have tried to think about whether this type of city living really exists in the U.S. The only place we could think of that is similar is Manhattan, which probably doesn’t have the same small town feel we experience here. In the U.S., cities seem to mostly composed of office buildings that people commute to from the suburbs, so the number of businesses serving the community is minimal. In Spain, life seems to revolve around the cities and it is common for people to live in the cities and commute to office parks outside of the cities for work. There are some suburbs around the larger cities, but most Spaniards live either in cities or in small countryside villages. Because of this, the businesses that exist within the cities seem to be primarily there to serve the people who live in the city. Whatever the reason for it, we are glad to be able to have this experience living in the middle of a city at an affordable price, and feel very welcomed by the community here.

Updates and Videos

The kids just wrapped up their first trimester of school and I wanted to post an update, and also some videos of them speaking in Spanish.

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In general, things are going great here and we have never questioned our decision to move to Spain. The kids are all settled in and in their routines of school and extracurricular activities. They enjoyed the holiday season leading up to the winter break, which included learning villancicos (Spanish Christmas carols) to perform for parents and for community members, and visits from one of the three kings to the classrooms of our younger two kids to give a stuffed bunny to each child in the class (pre-purchased by the parents). In Spain, children are given some gifts on Christmas by family members or Papa Noel, but the main gift giving holiday is on January 6th when the Los Tres Reyes Magos come and leave them presents in their shoes. Because of the two holidays, schools have a long winter break which we are spending touring cities in Andalucía.

Our 4-year-old is completely adapted to school and doesn’t really remember ever living anywhere else. Her flexible attitude and friendly personality has resulted in a very easy transition. Since I don’t see her interacting with peers much it has been hard to judge her language progression, but I recently realized that she is speaking completely fluently, which is shown in the video below. She is very verbal in English and I don’t think she has the same expansive vocabulary in Spanish that she does in English, but it seems that she is able to communicate at an age appropriate level. She received a first trimester report card in which she received the top rating for all topics, including communication.

Our 7-year-old is also very much turning into a Spanish kid and is doing great in school. His level of Spanish seems to have very quickly caught up to his peers and he received excellent grades on his first report card, especially in math and language. He is reading long chapter books intended for older kids in Spanish without difficulty. Even though he knows he is American and the other kids are Spanish, it does not seem that he thinks of himself as being different on a regular basis. His memories of the U.S. are fading quickly and he only remembers a couple friends there.

Our 10-year-old had the roughest transition at the start of the year, though he has settled in and is pretty happy. He had trouble with the language demands initially at school and is still not at the same level as his peers, but he has improved steadily over the months and has impressed his teacher with his progress. Math has been a consistent area of strength. He got good grades on his first report card, though there is definitely some room for growth as his language skills continue to improve. Of all the kids, he is the most homesick and talks pretty often about wanting to go back home and missing things and people there. Sometimes it comes out of nowhere, but more often it is preceeded by a less than perfect day (lost soccer game, bad grade on a test, etc).   I feel like when we do move back, we will likely hear that he misses Spain, since he is a kid who forms strong connections to people and places.

Our 12-year-old has continued to be happy at school and with his new friends. There are times he will mention wanting to go home after a bad day, but this happens pretty rarely. We’ve had many discussions about “The grass is always greener” and I think he will miss Spain most of all when we do return. He is doing well in school, though he is a kid who has never been content with anything less than perfect grades, so sometimes he holds himself to unrealistic standards. He was disappointed with his first report card, though his teacher explained that the reason was because he does not keep his notebooks neat enough, so this lowered his grade in every subject. There is a huge focus here on organization of notebooks which they start teaching in the early grades, but was quite a shift from what our older two kids were used to at home. It seems the older boys’ teachers have discussed our children and this tendency with each other, which leads me to think our kids will be remembered at the school as “those nice hardworking boys with the messy notebooks.” We do not want them stressed out about grades while we are here so haven’t been making a big deal about it, but they both seem to want to improve in the second trimester and now have a better idea of what the expectation is.

Below you can see some videos of how they are each progressing with their language skills.