Wednesday, April 23, 2014

And now the flipside: Airbnb as a guest

So you guys have read before about how we listed our place on Airbnb and even a follow up post on what it's like to be a host. So now let's do the flipside: what's it like being a guest on Airbnb? For our trip to Tarragona last week, we picked this beautiful place right in the heart of the city. It was bright and modern and had all the conveniences of home including tv, pots and pans, and even an elevator (score!). The owner, who lives upstairs, was super considerate and hospitable. He picked us up from the train station, set up a travel baby crib, was in constant contact with us, and even stocked the place with fresh fruit prior to our arrival. All together, it was a very comfortable and enjoyable place to hang out but there were a few downsides as well not specifically about this particular apartment but with the Airbnb set up as a whole, so I thought I'd mention a few things here.

Basically when you use Airbnb, you're staying in someone's home. Whether anyone lives there or not, you have to be respectful of other people's property (duh, right?) and clean. This is different and can be a bit more stressful than staying at a hotel. Think about it. If an ashtray breaks at a hotel, you wouldn't freak out about replacing it. If you leave a hotel without washing the dishes, making the bed, or picking up towels off the bathroom floor, the hotel won't think you're a total slob. Or maybe they would think that but they wouldn't give you a negative review like an Airbnb host can.

During our stay in this place, keeping Roman from getting into any shenanigans and messing up someone's home was perhaps a little bit more effort than we had previously thought. He heard a lot of, ´Don't touch that, it's not yours!' and 'Stop playing hide and seek in the blinds, you might tangle them!'. I also made sure to cover the cream colored sofas in the living room with beach towels so that Roman's sticky yogurt fingers or chocolate milk mustache wouldn't make a stain.

Another thing was that since nobody lives in this place year round, there was absolutely nothing we could distract or entertain Roman with. There were no toys, no books, no movies, no magazines, nothing in the closets (the little one likes rearranging things in closets), basically nada. And we had only brought a few things with us for him to play with so we had to buy a few cheap toys while we were there so he wouldn't be so bored in the apartment. It really made me wish that the places on this website were more affordable because I'd love to stay in a house where a child lives.

These are not big cons by any stretch, they're just minor things to think about before you become a guest and if you're bringing a curious, adventuresome toddler with you. Like I said, we did end up having a great time here and were very glad we picked this place. Plus! there was one thing about this place that Roman absolutely loved:

The balcony! At our home in Barcelona, we don't have one so the little one was fascinated and enchanted by this place that was outdoors but not quite. He spent many a morning sitting out here sunning himself like a chubby little cat. He liked to wave to people in balconies opposite us and woof back at the dogs that were barking in the courtyard. I'm pretty sure the balcony experience was the one he most enjoyed from our trip. Little ones, huh?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Scenes from Tarragona

Well as you guys already know, the Professor and I recently returned from a month long vacation in Miami in March. So what was the first thing we felt like doing once we got back to Barcelona? Yup, taking another vacation. Last week was Semana Santa (Holy Week) in all of Spain and the Professor, being a Professor, had the week off as did the little one and I. We debated for weeks about where we should go and for how long (as you may remember, I'm wary of long vacations that mess with the little's sleep schedule) but we finally decided to visit the nearby Catalan town of Tarragona. This is a small city an hour's train ride south of Barcelona and we'd heard great things about the beaches, the warmer weather and the surprisingly well preserved Roman ruins. Being fans of all things Roman (ha!), we decided to check it out.

Here are some scenes from our trip:

We didn't know this before we visited but it seems Tarragona has the most Roman ruins of any city outside of Italy. There is the Roman Circus, the Roman walls, the amphitheater, a citadel and more but I think that this aqueduct, located a few minutes outside of the city center, was definitely the most impressive thing we saw there. The aqueduct is kind of in the middle of nowhere, in a large state park bordered by a lot of wild vegetation and rocky, gravelly roads. To be honest, we were too scared to let the little one out of his stroller because he could have easily tumbled down a steep hill but there were several families with older kids who had brought picnics with them and this would have been such an idyllic spot to linger and take in some history. Maybe next time. 

This is from the other side of the aqueduct and really just to give you an idea of the enormity of this thing. Impressive, no?

During our stay, we rented an apartment right in the middle of the old city that was literally across the street from this beautiful old cathedral, the Catedral de Santa Maria. Our apartment was so close we heard the church bells chime loudly every hour which made for a nice morning alarm clock.

The Cathedral was beautiful on the inside and out. I loved the stained glass windows and the lovely colors they added to the mostly clay color scheme.

A picture of me and the cheeky outside of the Cathedral. The Professor and I planned all of our excursions during the little one's nap times (which is roughly between noon and two pm) so that we could see as much as possible without a bored and cranky baby putting a damper on things. The only downside to that is that almost every picture we took of him or with him is while he's asleep or just having woken up which was the case here. 

Tarragona is the second largest city in Catalonia but it's still a pretty small town and it definitely feels like one as you walk about. It's so charming and quaint and I loved the brightly colored buildings and murals like this one above. One thing to note if you ever visit here, wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for some pretty steep inclines. Your hamstrings will get a killer workout here. 

A shot of the charming little streets. This particular one is just outside the apartment where we stayed.

For my money, you can never have too many pictures of charming little streets. So there you are. 

This is the national dish of Catalonia and they serve it at every place in Barcelona as well. It's called fideua and it's very similar to paella but it's made with noodles instead of rice. Also unlike the traditional paella which is made with rabbit and chicken, fideua is normally made with fish and seafood. I really like this dish but I still find it weird that it's served with an aioli sauce. 

I think that the key to travelling with toddlers is to set an easy pace for the day with a lot of down time. When Roman woke up from his naps, we would take him to the local parks (the good thing about Spain is that you're never more than a few blocks from a playground) or just let him wander around plazas like this one so he could stretch his legs and explore in a relatively safe car-free environment.

The amphitheater was actually the first thing we saw driving from the train station to the Old City on our first day. It's quite breathtaking against the bright blue of the ocean. 

Lastly, another shot of me and my little Roman among the Roman ruins. Say that five times fast. 

So that was our mini-vacation in Tarragona. How about you guys? Been anywhere interesting lately?

P.S. Here's what we did last weekend (in Barcelona) in case you missed it. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Scenes from our weekend

This past weekend was peaceful and only semi-eventful which was just how I like 'em. In addition to all the usual weekend stuff we normally do like hitting up the supermarket and spending a few hours at the park, the Professor and I had a nice, long, quiet lunch at a small cafe in Les Corts (we seem to have hit upon the most successful way to dine out: schedule them during baby's nap times!) and on Sunday we checked out a children's book fair in the Old City which was absolutely charming.

Here are some scenes from our weekend:

 The timing of the book fair was meant to coincide with  El dia de San Jordi (the Day of St. George) on April 23rd which is also known in Catalunya as the day of the book and the rose. On this day, men give their sweethearts a red rose and women, in turn, give their men a book and everybody gives their kid a book. So off we went to see some books. But in this picture, you can also see the dragon. With hipster glasses on. hm.

I loved this book globe sculpture. They really did have book from all over the world there in all different languages. I could have spent all day there looking at it. 

Of course the little one thought it was an enormous ball and rushed at it, trying to grab it. He was very disappointed that he could neither kick it nor roll it nor throw it nor bite it. 

At the event, there was live music, workshops about books for children and for parents, story time, and arts and crafts. I also really liked this dome of chalkboards. Isn't that a great idea? 

Most of the kids drew predictable things: suns, flowers, hearts, their names. But some of the kids drew really interesting things. I mean, how many kids would draw an elephant's behind? And how does this tie into the snowflakes and the balloon? I really want to hear this story, don't' you?

You know what's funny and frustrating at the same time? When you and your husband decide to go out and do something just for your child like attend a children's book fair and when you get there, you discover that your child has no interest in the books, the story time, the craft workshops or the music. No. What your child wants to do is grab a plastic chair and push it all over the fair. 

So we spent a good hour watching him rearrange the furniture. Surprisingly enough, he wasn't the only little kid doing this. We saw another toddler moving a table and a multi-tasking four year old hauling around six chairs. They could go into business together. 

So that's what we've been up to lately. What about you guys?

P.S. Here's what we did last weekend in case you missed it. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Scenes from our weekend

So over the weekend, spring happened. Totally out of the blue. Last week, we were wearing wellies, puffer coats, and grumbling about the cold, wind and rain. Then on Friday, the sun came out and decided to stay awhile-yay! We spent the weekend celebrating a birthday, walking around town, Skyping with family and getting caught up on laundry now that it's dry and sunny enough to hang the clothes outside again. 

Here's some more stuff we did on our weekend:

Isn't that an adorable little one? This young lady turned one year old on Saturday and like most babies her age, didn't really care that much about it. She was more interested in eating a few toys but she did dig into that tiny homemade cake that her mom made her. As she was going to town on her cake, I was remembering how almost a year ago, my own little one had his first birthday (remember this?). The time really does go by so fast. I kinda hate that.  

While we were out walking over the weekend, we passed by this amazing bookstore called Fabre on Rambla Catalunya. I was originally intrigued by this place because of the display in the store window, with tons of toys and some hanging paper eggs for Easter. But it's even more impressive once you go inside. It's kind of a combination book store and toy store but the toys are not of your Toys R Us variety. They tend to be wooden, hand painted, non-battery operated and stacked high on bookshelves that almost reach the ceilings. It was fun to walk around this little place and feel as though you had stepped back in time. 

Another view of the window display at Fabre. I have to say that I love the Spanish word for window display much better than the English one. The Spanish word is ´escaparete´ and at least in my mind it conjures up an image of something that takes you away from your daily life, an escape, which is what a well designed window display should do, am I right? P.S. How cute is that red bike? I know someone who'd love that thing but he's still a bit too little to ride it.

Have you ever held a tasmanian devil in your arms? No? How about a 21 month old who doesn't want to take a picture with you? Same thing. This is me trying to hold a squirmy little boy who would rather run around in circles and have me chase him for a few hours. Sigh. When will we want the same things?

So that's what we've been up to over here. How about you guys? Do anything fun over the weekend?

P.S. Here's what we did last weekend, in case you missed it. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Scenes from our weekend

Spring is in the air! Technically. But it seems Barcelona missed that memo. This past weekend was drizzly, overcast, chilly and so windy that on one of our walks on Saturday afternoon, the wind practically carried the little one away (it almost felt like this! But not in Italian obviously). Apart from getting blown about, we had lunch with friends and their little girl, got caught up on some work that had laid idle during our Miami trip, and I finally saw the Great Gatsby. Honestly, I was expecting better since I like Leonardo DiCaprio and loved Moulin Rouge. I would definitely say that the second half of the movie is better than the first but I definitely prefer the book. Apart from that, we had a pretty relaxing two days.

Here are some scenes from our weekend:

It's that time of year again people! The calçot season is upon us. Actually the calçot season is almost over so if you're in Barcelona currently, gather your friends, head out to the country and light up your grills. And if you have no idea what I'm talking about, click on this link
For lunch with our friends, we revisited Tonka Bar in Poble Sec. I wrote about this place before here and I can now say that the lunch is as good as the carrot cake. Plus! It has this little room where the little ones can play while they wait for the food to be served (and for two hours after they've eaten while their parents gab away at a table on the terrace). 
The little one is finally over his jet lag, hurray! The first four or five days back in Barcelona were pretty brutal. The Professor and I were practically sleeping in shifts since the little one woke up every few hours and decided he wasn't sleepy anymore. We had to re-sleep train him which seems to be necessary after every trip no matter how long. It definitely puts me off travelling a little bit I have to say. :/
Chocolate chip cookies. The best home remedy for when-is-the-cold-weather-finally-going-to-be-over-itis. With a dash of sea salt sprinkled on top. Because I'm fancy like that. 

So that's what we've been up to around here. What did you guys do?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Scenes from Miami

Well we're back in Barcelona after a month and a half long vacation in Miami. As I mentioned in a previous post, we originally went there because my big sister got married (woo hoo!) but we ended up staying a bit longer so that the Professor could do some research with a colleague at a university there. We had a great time with our families and friends as we always do but coming back from a month long trip has definitely been difficult for everyone especially the little one. We arrived in Barcelona on Friday and it's now Tuesday and Roman is still jet lagged. He takes naps at odd hours, is frequently cranky and fussy and he won't go down in his crib without going into hysterics as though he thinks he'll never see us again. Sigh. But let's not linger on the negatives! Below are some of the positives.

Here are some scenes from Miami:

The newlyweds! Aren't they a handsome couple? You know what's funny? Everyone thinks that me and my sister look identical even though we have practically none of the same features. A friend of mine was recently at my house in Barcelona and she saw a photo of my sister and her then-fiance on their Save the Date card and she said to me, 'Um, why are you posing with your sister's fiance?`. Lol. 

One of the best parts of the wedding was this photo booth with props that was set up in the reception hall. We had tons of fun taking pictures of ourselves acting and looking ridiculous. This is a picture of the bride and groom, my best friend and myself with cat eyes (meow!) The other great thing about the reception was the music. The dj was killing it and I, who am not a known boogeyer, got down to 'I saw her standing there' and 'Livin on a prayer.´ 
While my sisters and I were tearing up the dance floor, the little one was passed out upstairs. Thank GOD the wedding and reception were at a hotel and my best friend had a room because Roman only made it until 8:30 and dinner before his eyelids started getting heavy. So the Professor spent most of the reception watching basketball and checking twitter on his phone while he babysat the little one. Since the Professor's not really one for dancing, he ended up having a pretty good time too. 
While we were in Miami, a friend told us that Thomas the Train would be visiting the Gold Coast Railroad Museum in Homestead. As the little one is a Thomas fanatic, we were very excited to go and everyone had a great time. You get to ´meet´ Thomas and go for a ride on him, you get to meet Sir Topham Hat, and they had tons more activities like arts and crafts, obstacle courses and train sets. Homestead is a bit of a trek but if you have little ones who love trains, it might be worth a visit, especially if Thomas is in town. 
Can you see the chimpanzee in the picture? He's a bit camouflaged. This picture is from a visit to Zoo Miami when the little one went with the Professor and his brother. Roman loves books about animals like Dear Zoo and Good Night Gorilla so he was so excited to see the animals from his books in person. I think for little ones it's so thrilling to see something in person that they've only seen before on TV or in books. At least for Roman it is.  :)
Roman also got a chance to feed this kind giraffe some lettuce. He squirmed with delight and maybe disgust as the giraffe's long, slobbery tongue grazed over his hands. But he liked it enough to feed the giraffe seconds. 
We got the little one his first pair of Crocs while we were in Miami and so far we're pretty satisfied. I think Crocs are the kinds of shoes that only look good on little kids and Mario Batali. This is a picture of the little one trying to wake the komodo dragons.
This is a picture of a piece from the newly opened Perez Art Museum in Miami. This museum was amazing and I highly recommend you visit it if you're in South Florida. I will write a separate post all about this place later this week. 
A picture of my dad teaching the little one how to brush his teeth. Even though Roman loves his toothbrush, (remember this post?), he obviously can't brush correctly at his age so his papa and I still need to do it for him. But we're not that consistent about it to be totally honest and we noticed a few months ago that Roman had some light brown stains on his teeth. I was worried that the stains might be a sign of tooth decay (did you know babies can get cavities?) so we took him for his first dental appointment while we were in Miami and they did a professional cleaning which was not a fun experience for anyone. Fortunately, the dentist told us that the stains were not tooth decay and could have been caused by dark colored foods or antibiotics.
Whenever we're in Miami, we're normally obligated to have meals in the homes of every single relative and friend we visit. This is not a bad thing at all when you have friends that are such great cooks. This is a picture of a Cuban dish called arroz con pollo (chicken with yellow rice) made by an extremely talented old Cuban man who is in the process of writing a cookbook. 
Another Cuban specialty, and one we greatly miss in Barcelona, are these pastelitos filled with guava, cheese, or a mix of both. They're sweet and flaky and soft and delicious. Best when accompanied by some cafe con leche. Yum!
This seems like such an innocuous picture right? But actually something bad happened on that day. The little one hurt his ankle coming down from one of these big kid slides and suffered a mild sprain. It's a bit heartbreaking to see him limping about but according to the doctor, it should heal on it's own in a week or two. Thank god babies are so resilient, huh?

So that's what we were up to in Miami. What about you guys? Gone anywhere lately?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Brothers and Sisters

When I got pregnant with the little one, I always thought he would be a GAP baby because I LOVE that store and that's where I shop myself and where the Professor buys most of his clothes (I should mention that I am the one who picks out the Professor's clothes :).  But since I moved to Spain, where, sadly, there is no GAP, I buy most of the little one's clothes from Zara baby (actually called Kiddy's Class in Spain). So imagine my surprise and delight when I visited the Zara website today and saw them feature the adorable and stylish children of some bloggers I follow! I love the effortless chic of these looks and am actually a little envious of how much more stylish these children are compared to myself!
Head on over to the Zara site if you'd like to see more.

(Photos: Zara)