Dream Shard Blog: The Scintillating Adventures of Our Household

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Jul '12

England and Spain Adventure, Day 11: SPAIN AT LAST!

On our second Sunday in Europe it was time to leave England and fly to southern Spain, to the area known as Costa del Sol.

We checked out of our Marriott in Leeds and got a taxi to the Leeds-Bradford airport. It’s always nice to drive around the countryside in a car, to see more sights. About halfway to the airport I looked out the window and saw the ruins of a castle or something just off the side of the road. I asked the driver about it, and he said it was Kirkstall Abbey that was destroyed by King Henry VIII in the 1500’s following the Dissolution of the Monasteries. A piece of history, just there, by the highway. That’s England for you.

We decided to use the European airline Ryan Air to fly from Leeds to Malaga, Spain because it was by far the cheapest way to go. Ryan Air is purely a budget, no-frills airline. I did some research about them before purchasing our tickets and read up on their strict baggage policies (stricter than Delta’s, so we had to make sure our luggage would meet Ryan Air’s standards) and also their seating policies, which is that there are no assigned seats. I had read complaints from parents saying that they were separated from their young children on the flight because no other seats were open. So we splurged and paid about £10 more per seat to purchase assigned seats at the very front of the plane (only seven seats are available for purchase).

So glad we did! We thought we had plenty of time when we arrived at the airport to make our flight, but wow, Ryan Air’s check-in service was SLOW. Only one person was there at first to serve a long line of people and the express check-in machine was broken. Finally a second person showed up. They kept asking people not on the Malaga flight to stand aside and let others ahead, but virtually everyone in line was there to get on the same flight.

Somehow, miraculously, we got checked in and dashed through security. Then we followed everyone outside and walked along the tarmac to find our plane. It was kind of a long walk. Again, so glad we had assigned seats so we were all together.

Once on board I didn’t feel like the flight was “cheap” or “super budget,” except that there were no pockets on the seat in front of us to stow books or toys, and you had to pay for anything you wanted to eat or drink. They also offered merchandise for sale, which I’d never seen on a plane before.

The kids were good. They really are little troopers.

On our flight to Malaga:

About two and a half hours later we were in Spain! My first time. Our first task was to get our car rental, but I what I really wanted more than anything was some water. We drank all we had on the plane and were too cheap to buy another bottle on board. After we landed we exchanged money (pounds to euros) but we didn’t have any small change for the vending machine with drinks. Oh my goodness, that water looked amazing sitting in that machine, all shiny and cold and drinkable. I watched other people get water from it and it was the coolest machine, with a special robotic arm that reached inside and picked up the drink before dropping it down the shaft.

Arranging the car rental took a long time. In the meantime, Wes and Carissa got their wiggles out. You can see my coveted vending machine behind Wes.

Finally we got everything sorted, picked out the appropriate sized car seats for the kids, and found our car. A minivan, actually–emphasis on MINI. It seats seven (we had six) but wow, it was a tight squeeze. Especially considering our luggage. With our strategic specialist (John) in charge of packing the car, we managed to fit everything in. Barely.

Southern Spain reminded us at once of Southern California. It’s warm and dry and right on the water, except here instead of the Pacific Ocean it’s the Mediterranean Sea.

A bit of desert and mountains…

…and palm trees.

And we saw something Spain is famous for: lots of white cities.

Because we went to England AND Spain, we had to pack clothes for the 50-degree wetness of England plus the 85-degree sunniness of Spain. Now in Spain the kids finally got to pull on their sandals.

In England we stayed overnight in three different cities, but in Spain we stayed the entire week in one place. It was a timeshare that John’s mom had access to, and it was one of the main reasons we decided to take a trip to Europe in the first place.

Our new home was a small resort called Club Marbella by Crown Resorts, 25 minutes from the Malaga airport in Sitio de Calahonda.

It wasn’t a bad place to stay. It was on top of a hill with some restaurants and small shops down the hillside.

We were super surprised when we arrived in southern Spain and discovered its huge British influence. Many of the restaurants advertised “Full English Breakfasts” and offered traditional British fare like kebabs and afternoon tea. But we met a lot of British people, so I guess it makes sense. If I lived in a cool, damp country like England I would probably want to vacation in sunny Southern Spain, too.

Our little hillside had a restaurant style to suit pretty much everyone–Asian, British, Spanish, even American. On our first night in Spain we opted for, of all things, Swiss fondue.

Our hotel room had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living area, dining area, kitchen (with washing machine!), and a balcony overlooking greenery. After being in cramped hotel rooms in England it was nice to spread out and let the kids play more freely.

I didn’t think to snap photos of the place while it was actually tidy.

Living/dining area. The kids loved taking the cushions off the sofas. It was definitely the play area. The TV offered a mix of Spanish, English, and German stations, but the English channels were very British and not American. The kids found a British children’s show they liked to watch in the morning, and sometimes there were decent shows or movies on at night for us. And sometimes not; it was hit and miss.

Our 1-bed room with attached bathroom.

The kids’ room. They did well sleeping in the same room together. If they were both awake when we put them in there they usually were awake for a while; we’d hear giggling and Wes saying, “Dissa!” (“Carissa!”). But they always settled eventually and went to sleep. It helped that Carissa was in the crib.

The other bathroom (with bidet).

Kitchen. It was small but it had everything we needed.

The balcony. The balcony was a wonderful feature; it let in lots of fresh air and had a nice, peaceful view. It was a pleasant place to sit and eat breakfast. But we used it cautiously because of the kids.

It also came with a drying rack that we used for laundry. After doing laundry in the bathtub in England and strewing wet clothes around the room, having a washing machine and drying rack was pure luxury.

And, oh yeah, there was a pool. They offered Aqua Zumba (although not by name, that’s what it was) everyday, but I was always either putting kids down for naps then or we were out on a road trip. This is a picture I snapped just after getting the kids to sleep.

There was a separate kiddie pool that we used later in the week and a mini-golf course. The resort also had a restaurant where we ate breakfast and dinner a few times.

After getting settled on Sunday we prepared for our first full day in Spain on Monday: a road trip to the city of Seville.

Jul '12

England and Spain Adventure, Days 8, 9, & 10: Leeds & York PART 2

We had some fun treats when we were in York, England. Naturally, Wesley had an ice cream cone. There is practically nothing better than European ice cream. And practically nothing makes Wes happier.

We had to have pasties (pronounced with a nasal “a” sound) at least once in England. They are little handheld pies, usually savory but sometimes sweet, that come from Cornwall. Historically the miners would take them down into the mines for their meals. John and I split a sweet peaches and cream pastie and it was delicious.

We also absolutely had to stop for afternoon high tea. Cream tea is tea with scones; high tea is bigger and better with finger sandwiches, scones, and pastries. We went to Betty’s, which is THE place for tea in York. (You know this by the very long queue you have to stand in before getting inside.) John didn’t want to do tea again so he took Wes to McDonald’s while I had tea with Carissa.

She was the perfect companion for tea. She dug right into the finger egg and cress sandwiches and enjoyed chamomile tea with all the dignity of a real British lady.

At night we took the train back to Leeds and returned to our Marriott hotel. We enjoyed just chillin’ at “home.”

The kids relaxed in bed…

…and played with balloons that some nice shopkeeper gave them at the end of the day.

One night we brought back subs from Subway and ate them in bed. And chips too.

Wesley played a lot with this electronic toy that was an absolute life-saver. In fact, when we were checking out of the hotel in Bath we couldn’t find this toy. I stayed after everyone had left and searched high and low until I finally found it underneath the bed in Grammy and Guy’s room adjacent to ours. I knew our trip would be a lot harder without this toy!

And one of the best things about staying in a hotel: snuggling in bed together, watching TV.

Sometimes when the kids needed entertainment I would sing songs with them. I have a clear memory of singing songs with them in London while waiting for the ferry from Canary Wharf back to our hotel. It was in an enclosed (warm and dry) space, and the other people were watching with amusement. Here my kids are doing “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” in our hotel room one night.

One of York’s famous areas is The Shambles. It’s an old street lined with buildings that overhang the cobblestone, and it used to have a lot of butchers who would hang their meat for display. Now there are no butchers, but a lot of quaint shops and restaurants.

We came across a street market on Friday.

Notice the man in the hat. It’s called a flat hat, and surprisingly lots of British men wear them.

So when we came across a vendor selling them, John picked up his sole British souvenir. Very handsome, no?

We visited three museums in York. The first one was the York Castle Museum.

The name is misleading because it’s not a museum about castles, but it is near the remains of the original castle in York.

This is how it used to look, when water surrounded it.

The museum is really a museum of everyday life from the early days (say, 1600s) up to nearly-modern day. Honestly, this museum wasn’t our favorite. It bordered on cheesy, but it had some interesting points. I liked learning about how the women used to live in the days before the technology I’m so used to, like this:

The place is famous for its life-size recreation of a Victorian-period street. We paused for a picture next to a (fake) horse on the street.

Strollers weren’t allowed, so Wes had to hang out in this backpack (because he was asleep when we arrived and we didn’t want to carry him).

There were some nifty displays of armor and weaponry that John found interesting, and some relics from the 1980s and 90s that took me back to my childhood. We also walked through the York Castle Prison museum, which was kind of gloomy.

We didn’t stay much longer than an hour at the Castle Museum, and then we moved on to the Jorvik Viking Centre.

This place was a mixture of strange and interesting. The first thing you notice (OK, are overwhelmed by) is the SMELL. They want you to feel like you’re part of the typical Viking life of 975 AD, so they enhance your experience with “sensory stimuli” including the typical smells of the time. WOW. I can’t even describe the stench, but I still remember it.

One of the unusual parts of the museum experience is a ride through a reconstructed Viking settlement which includes Viking voices speaking in Old Norse. It was a little like Disneyland, but on a much, much smaller (and smellier) scale. No photos were allowed, though.

We also spent some time looking at this recreated archeological site. It was kind of cool because everywhere in the dirt beneath the glass were ancient Viking relics, like a dice, comb, knife, coins, etc. The kids had fun running across the glass and getting their wiggles out.


Leather shoe


We also learned lots about the Viking people from their skeletons. People were not in great health!

We saw coins.

And then we had one of the museum workers dressed up as a Viking make us a coin of our own to take home.

The final place we visited in York was called York’s Sweet Story. It’s a museum dedicated to chocolate (are you so surprised we ended up there?).

York is famous for its chocolate. It is the birthplace of the Kit Kat, for instance, and has about 300 years history of making chocolate confections.

We started with a chocolate tasting, then learned about the history of chocolate (how ancient Mayans drank cocoa water and it was considered a delicacy; we got to taste some…it’s called “bitter water” for good reason! Yuck), and the history of chocolate making in York. Interesting stuff.

(chocolate tasting)

We ended up in this ultra-mod room with interactive displays about chocolate until it was our turn to see the chocolate making demonstration.

The demo was one of the highlights (because it’s always fun to see chocolate made, and fun to taste it, too).

Our confectioner:

I stood with Wes near the front. He liked watching, and he also liked looking at himself in the mirror above the counter.

And, of course, Wes LOVED the piece of chocolate he got at the end!

York was good. We spent two full days here. On Sunday morning we checked out and took a taxi to the Leeds-Bradford Airport to leave England and begin the second leg of our adventure–in Spain!

Jul '12

Parade of Homes

Every year in January I start looking forward to attending the Parade of Homes in June. It’s where home builders showcase some new homes that you can visit and walk through. I’ve gone every year for the last five or so years. Each year gets a little more challenging to attend as I add children and they get older.

This year I got to go a few times, sometimes with both kids (challenging, especially with Wes), once with just Carissa (blessedly easy compared to having both kids), and even once by myself (wow!!).

I had my camera the night it was me and Carissa. She is a fun little girl to hang out with. Because it was just me and her, and I didn’t have to keep a hand on Wes to keep him from running off or touching things or slipping under the barrier tape, we had time to slow down and enjoy each house we visited.

We saw some nifty things, like this live plant mural on the wall inside an ultra-mod house.

The same house had a rooftop deck with amazing valley views. We hung out here for a while, enjoying the warm breeze and soft pillows.

Another gorgeous house we walked through was very child-friendly. Carissa saw this reading nook and made herself right at home.

She’s really into trucks, motorcycles, cars, and buses, so this book she found was hard to drag her away from.

Visiting new, sparkly, innovative homes is fun. But sometimes after seeing such amazing houses it makes the sparse white box you live in feel a tad inadequate. Look at these two kid’s rooms. Somehow Wesley’s bare walls and unadorned bed seem kind of sad. At least he doesn’t care.

Jul '12

Pool Time

In June we had a free pool morning at this beautiful pool, courtesy of the Utah Down Syndrome Foundation. Wes loves being in the pool so we knew we had to go. It’s always nice to see other families with kids with Down syndrome. I’m used to how Wes looks; he just looks like Wes. But when we’re in a group with lots of people who look like Wes, I remember that he really does look like he has Down syndrome.

Carissa is pretty timid in the water. She warmed up after a while.

But Wes is always all smiles in the water.

John and I took turns with each kid.

The pool has a small water slide for the littles and a couple big slides. Wes kept asking to go on the giant slides but we made him stick to this little one.

Wes had fun.

Jul '12

England and Spain Adventure, Days 8, 9, & 10: Leeds & York PART 1

On Thursday we left Bath, England and took a train to Leeds, which is about four hours north. We were using BritRail England passes, only available to tourists. It costs a bit of money but offers flexibility. We just showed up at train stations and hopped on the next train to wherever we wanted to go. First we took a short trip from Bath to Bristol, and then a long train to Leeds.

There are a few different train companies in England and we used about three of them. Each one was different. The train from Bristol to Leeds was different than others we had ridden. It was a long train, going from southern England to Scotland. Above every seat was an electronic strip that indicated some seats were reserved for certain legs of the journey. So we had to find seats, together, that were open for the duration of our trip. We managed it. And we managed to get the kids to sleep for a least a small portion of the trip.

We actually wanted to spend two or three days in York, which is a smaller, historic town near Leeds but it was so expensive ($200+/night for cheap accommodation) that we opted to stay in Leeds instead. It’s only about a 20 minute train ride between the two places. I used Priceline to book our hotel. Sometimes Priceline can be a real gem. Instead of $200+/night we booked a Marriott in downtown Leeds within walking distance of the train station for $78/night.

Our hotel:

I think this was my favorite hotel we stayed at. Our room wasn’t giant (two double beds with a little port-a-crib squished against the wall for Carissa) but it was nice and comfortable. It also makes me feel better that we got a good deal on it.

When we arrived the mini fridge was stocked full of treats and drinks with a sign warning us not to move anything unless we were willing to buy it. An electronic sensor automatically detects if something is moved, and it charges it to your bill. We asked them to come clean it out and turn off the sensor, and then we had room for all the stuff we actually needed to put in there, like our many liters of milk and pots of yogurt.

What can I say? Wes loved having a big double bed with down pillows all to himself.

Carissa was fond of her crib. This was the only hotel that gave us a baby blanket to use with the crib in addition to just a sheet. It was a nice touch; Carissa loves blankets.

The kids also loved playing with the many, many pillows and cushions, transferring them from the bed, to the chair, to the floor, to the crib, and back again.

Our first night in Leeds was spent getting groceries at M&S (love that place; it’s a department store with clothes on the main floor and a posh grocery store in the basement) and eating dinner at McDonald’s. McD’s was such a welcome break from typical British food. However, the menu was different than ours in America. They served American-style glazed donuts in cases on the counter instead of the cookies you see here. They had different styles of sandwiches. And when I asked for a hot fudge sundae (a McD classic, right?) they were confused and gave me a caramel sundae, which is all they offered.

Kids looking at the second floor window at McDonald’s at the buses.

The next day, Friday, we took the train to York. We could never figure out which platform had the next train to York (the electronic signs show the final destination, not the next stop) so we always had to find someone to ask.

At the Leeds station:

With Grammy and Guy:

The York station:

We really liked York. It’s old, founded by Romans in 71 AD, and the original city walls still stand and you can walk along them.

You can see famous York Minster in the background:

It even has the old arrow slits in tact, used for shooting arrows at enemy attackers.

Our attempt at a group photo, but Carissa just wanted to hold the camera.

Some of the sights along the pleasant walk from the train station towards the York Minster. (That’s the nice thing about York: you can walk to everything.)

The big attraction in York is the York Minster. It’s home to the Archbishop of York, the second-highest office of the Church of England. I saw a lot of Gothic-style cathedrals when I was a BYU student touring England, but I never saw the York Minster, and it is one of the best. Seriously stunning. Probably second only to the Canterbury Cathedral (which is home to the Archbishop of Canterbury–THE highest office of the Church of England). Seeing the York Minster was one of the highlights of our entire trip.

One of the best parts of our visit was that it was during a live organ concert. There is nothing better than walking through an ancient Gothic cathedral with the organ music reverberating all around you.

There was a cool line of statues depicting kings.

Wes examining a coffin.

Carissa slept through the whole time.

The York Minster is famous for its East Window, the largest example of medieval stained glass in the world. But it was under renovation. Instead, they had a huge digital picture of the window hanging in its place.

Some cool architecture on a door to the Chapel House.

Part 2: museums, treats, high tea, and getting ready to go to Spain!

Jul '12

Somebody’s Birfday

Today was somebody’s birfday.

He had a helper to open presents. (The helper is the little guy.)

The loot.

We had a party. Wes discovered all the root beer bottles in the fridge while I was upstairs and when I came down again, I found the refrigerator door wide open and the bottles lined up neatly in a row. Wes is very organized like this.

We had a cake. Don’t count the candles.

And we had ice cream. YUM.