What’s in our luggage?

This is a question I thought a lot about before we left. Reducing our ‘stuff’ was part of why we were leaving. We wanted to live with less and travel light, but still have everything we needed. Anyone with kids knows how much stuff suddenly appears the moment they enter the world. How were we going live comfortably without ending up with way more than we could carry?

Recently I read an article by Robert Moor, about MJ Eberhart, known as Nimblewell Nomad, who had been walking for 15 years. Moor said of Eberhart:

Shaving down one’s pack weight, he said, was a process of sloughing off one’s fears. Each object a person carries represents a particular fear: of injury, of discomfort, of boredom, of attack.

 

This is definitely true of what we have in our luggage. We’ve got clothes to prevent the cold, toys to prevent the boredom and gadgets to prevent losing touch with our loved ones. We don’t have a lot, but what we have is important to us.

To prevent ourselves from bringing anything unnecessary, we committed to limiting our main bag size to 45L each, and the kids to 30L. In addition we would each have a backpack for smaller items and as day bags.

In our pre-travel thrift, we made a decision not to purchase too many new items. We bought new luggage, good quality drink bottles and some packing cubes.

Well, I had good intentions with the drink bottles, but it wasn’t our best purchase. Within our first month of travel, we had lost all three of our new drink bottles. One got left behind before we left Australia, one got left in a taxi and we think the other one might be hiding in our friends’ house but hasn’t turned up yet.

On the other hand, our bags have proved a success. Cass and I bought a 45L Osprey Sojourn each, as they can be wheeled or used as a backpack. (Osprey no longer sell this size of Sojourn, but their Ozone is similar – see previous link). Three months in, we have not yet used them as a backpack, but we are still glad we have the option in case we ever need to.

For the kids we bought smaller 30L Kathmandu hybrid cases. All our suitcases have proved to be a good size for lifting onto high luggage racks on trains, or for wheeling down the cobbled streets of Spain. But for many people, the bags might seem small. So, what have we got in them?

Clothing

Underwear

  • 7 pairs of underwear for each of us – this reduces laundry pressure a little. (I only have 3 bras.)
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 1 set of full length pyjamas

Tops

  • 1 long sleeve collared shirt – the kids have an extra t-shirt instead of this one.
  • 1 long sleeve top – mine is a marino thermal because I feel the cold.
  • 1 x short sleeve top
  • 1 x t-shirt
  • 1 x sleeveless top
  • 1 x jumper
  • 1 x cardigan/hoodie

Dress – for La Chica and I

  • 1 x dress

Bottoms

  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 1 skirt and a pair of black leggings (for La Chica and I)
  • 1 pair of tracksuit pants

Outerwear

  • 1 raincoat – for Cass and I this doubles as a coat when we go out, but the kids have an extra coat.

Shoes

  • Thongs (Flip flops for non-Australians) – I can’t live without these
  • Sandals
  • Closed in shoes
  • Running shoes (for me only).

Other bits & bobs

  • Pashmina/scarf
  • Light scarf
  • Sarong – we use this as a picnic blanket, a bag, an item of clothing, a sheet. So handy.
  • Hat
  • Bathers
  • Goggles
  • Travel towel

Running Clothes (for me)

For me the biggest struggle is fitting in all my running clothes and accessories, without them, my bag could be much smaller, but I love running while we travel so they are here to stay. They also need laundering more often (because I get pretty smelly on a run), so I have to bring more items than I would like.

  • 2 x running bras
  • 1 x pair shorts
  • 1 x pair 3/4 length bottoms
  • 1 x cotton sleeveless top
  • 1 x technical shirt
  • 1 x hydration vest + bladder
  • 1 x pair of trail running shoes

Surf Items (for Cass)

Cass travels with a wetsuit and a rashie and a couple of spare fins so he’s always prepared when there’s surf. He decided not to travel with a board as it was too cumbersome when trying to get up escalators and the like with the kids in tow. It’s been a good decision, but he has to be extra resourceful when we arrive at a surf-side location.

Toiletries

I only have a small bag of toiletries. The biggest items are first aid (band-aids, sting cream, etc). Every time I pack, this is the item that annoys me the most because it’s the last to go in and everything looks like it fits so nicely until it goes in.

Other items

  • A journal
  • Small pencil case
  • Phone – we have a Spanish SIM for continental Europe and and UK SIM at this stage.
  • 1 x book (when we buy one we donate, swap, or exchange the old one)
  • Portable hard drive – Cass & I have one each with our work, photos and music on it. They add weight to our luggage but they are worth it.
  • Passports (!)
  • Wallet

Toys

The kids each have one of those insulated lunch box containers that they are allowed to fill up with toys or activities. When they buy something new, it has to fit in there, or if not, they have to remove something else. I actually think we haven’t had to get rid of much because we lose more toys than they buy (read fidget spinners).
La Chica has a kindle because she can easily read a book a day if she has the time, and El Chico has an iPod for listening to music when he needs a break from the rest of us.
Each of them have a camera that they received as Birthday presents.

Shared items

  • Computer
  • iPad – we brought this in case we wanted to both work at the same time. So far we haven’t really needed to, and I think we could easily live without it. It becomes useful on a 9 hour train journey to entertain the kids, but if it breaks, we’re not going to replace it.
  • 2 maps – We mark where we have been on each of these maps. It’s really fun to sit down together and see how far we’ve gone. The kids always have some really great questions too, and we learn a lot about Geography.
  • A small travel set of container of watercolour paints – We’ve only used this twice, but I like the idea that I will use it more… maybe….someday.
  • Frisbee – we’ve used this a lot.
  • Hackey sack – haven’t used it much (the kids find it difficult and lose interest).
  • Travel monopoly
  • Deck of cards
  • Travel washing line
  • Travel adapter & plenty of charging cords
  • Knife – for cutting up delicious Spanish cheese at our picnics, and also because Airbnb hosts often have terrible knives.
  • Tea towel  – We bought this while travelling because surprisingly most of our accommodation has not had a tea towel, and it is frustrating.
  • Travel sewing kit
  • 2 x lunch boxes for travel snacks

So far this has got us through three months from the 10˚C mountain cave districts in spring to the searing 45˚C in Andalucía to the summer rain of London. We’ll have to stock up on woolies and boots as we head into colder climes, particularly when we head to the snow, but for now this is everything we need.

Having a small amount of clothes means we need to launder more often (4 times a week to be precise). But that is a small price to pay, and is evident when we watch travelling families with suitcases much larger than ours struggling to lift them onto the luggage racks on a train. We always offer to help them, but are secretly glad we don’t travel that way.

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Running in Asturias (Spain)

Before I was a runner, I was a keen walker. I walked everywhere and would travel for miles to find a good bushwalk. (I think we can now see why I took to trail running so naturally). For many years I had a dream of walking the entire Heysen Trail, or walking the entire coast of Australia. I would plan them in my head, but they never came to fruition because I was working, or having babies, or was out of money. As I’ve become a runner, these dreams have transposed into dreams of running them. I have done sections of the Heysen Trail whenever the opportunity arose, and similarly coastal sections of Australia. Now we’re travelling around the globe, I’ve set my sights on some of the world’s trails.

As a family we have been talking of doing one of the Camino De Santiago routes in northern Spain. It’s high on our list of things to do and the plan is that I’ll run ahead each day and find somewhere to stay and Cass and the kids will walk and meet me. We haven’t set a date yet, but the kids are keen and we talk about it often.

Recently we stayed in Porrua, Asturias, which is not on the Camino, but about 1km from it, and so there were a lot of opportunities to do day trips along it with the kids, and run sections on my own. As I was training for the Riaza Trail Challenge I was after some elevation so did some runs on the Camino, and some side tracks up the mountains.

The Camino in this stretch travels through the coastal towns of Llanes and Poo (yes this name doesn’t translate well into English, but it’s a beautiful town). Peregrinos (as the walkers on the trail are known) can be seen on all parts of the track and they come in various shapes and forms. Some were retirees with very small packs, some were young solo travellers enjoying the disconnect and some were more like tourists with their eyes glued to the map on their phone. The latter were usually the sort to ask you for directions, even though they were the ones with the map.

The trail winds through the rural areas between towns with occasional sweeping views of the sea. All of the towns are close together and the trail often takes the least-direct route and shows you the smaller, interesting laneways along the way as it detours to places of religious significance.

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The Camino De Santiago markers are easy to spot

It’s a pleasure to run the Camino, as the route is well marked so you never have to check your map (unless you are one of the aforementioned tourist types) and it is so picturesque at every turn.

I’m glad I also took some of the side-trails as they also took me to picturesque areas where the dirt road was bordered by stone walls, and the mountains of the Picos De Europa loomed high in front of me. (The Travesera Picos De Europa run is in June for those keen on a brutally difficult mountain run).

There’s so much more of the Camino De Santiago that I want to run, but this trip definitely gave me a taste of it.

An introvert’s guide to meeting people while travelling

So we’ve been in Spain for two months now, and all of us are increasing in language confidence, discovering many new places, and investigating the ins and outs of life in a foreign country.

We’ve slowed down our travel, allowing us to immerse ourselves in each place and really delve into new experiences. This has led to some incredible moments, from a farmer asking us to come and see his baby goats (which the kids got to hold), to the kids being invited to an English Language school for an end of year class party.

All of these experiences have been invaluable. The kids have made some very close friends and it has been hard for them to leave them when we do. Last night ended up in a pile of tears as we left some of their favourite new friends.

What we have found, however, is that we were constantly pushing the kids to step past their comfort limits, when Cass and I were not. ‘Go on, say hello to those kids on the playground’ we urged, however when faced with another adult, we would say ‘hello’ and then just go about our transaction without pushing any further.

It dawned on us one day that we were pushing the kids, and they were having some genuinely profound interactions, while Cass and I were missing out.

At home Cass and I truly value our strong friendships with a few close friends, however we have never needed a lot of social interaction. Both of us always got what we needed socially from work and those close friendships. We are naturally introverts who like the company of a small dedicated group. This doesn’t work when travelling, when expanding horizons is what it is all about.

We’re not new to travel, we’ve both travelled before, but as solo backpackers, where it is easy to make conversation with a similar vagabonding type over a meal in a hostel or a drink in a bar. Now we travel as a pack of four, stay in Airbnb type accomodation, and interact with each other in our own little bubble – it is so easy to get by without meeting anyone at all.

Cass and I have had to develop strategies and games to really push ourselves to have more meaningful interactions with people around us and it has really paid off; Cass met a fellow surfer taxi driver who told him all about the local conditions and explained some new Spanish surfing terms; we met a shop owner whose best friend is a coach with the Adelaide Soccer team; and we’ve made friends with the owners of a local tapas bar, who gave us an impromptu round of free Spanish liqueurs to try. These strategies have extended our experience to be so much more rewarding than before we tried them.

Here’s some little games and strategies we use daily:

1. Say something unnecessary

Every time you have an interaction with someone (buying something, riding in a taxi, asking for something) you try to say something that is completely unnecessary to the transaction. For example; when buying bread, ask if there’s been much rain lately, when at the bar, ask who is playing the football on the television, when in a taxi ask for a good place to eat. It’s amazing how often such a simple statement or question can lead to a larger conversation about something very interesting.

2. Go to the same place regularly

If you find somewhere good, go there often. We found a tapería where we really loved the food. It was cheap, near our accommodation and is owned by two brothers that were very friendly. We went back three times and by our third visit we were chatting about all sorts of things (they were the ones that gave us the free selection of Spanish liqueurs and even put some non-alcoholic colourful ones in similar glasses for the kids).

3. Say where you are from

If you tell people early on where you are from, it will often launch a conversation. It’s easier to drop in than you might think. If you don’t understand what someone says you can easily say in the local language, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand, I’m Australian’. If you are feeling a bit more confident you can say ‘I’m sorry, can you please say that again, I’m Australian but would like to practice my Spanish’. Usually this turns into a further conversation, perhaps they will ask where in Australia you are from, or tell you that they’ve been there, or know someone from there. It’s a good starting point.

4. Ask for help

This seems obvious but I’m not very good at this. It works in so many situations. I don’t eat much meat and we used to walk around looking at menus hoping that we would find something herbivorous. Recently we’ve learned to ask the waiter if there are any vegetarian options. This has led to finding better options for all of us, as the waiters often recommend something that is especially good on the menu, or offer a suggestion for what the kids might like. This can then give you a chance to ask more, such as what ingredients are in it, where does the fish come from, how is it cooked, for example.

5. Say yes (when you can).

It can be scary, especially when you are always thinking about the safety of the kids, to say yes to things. I was terrified of letting the kids go to an English Language school party without us in a foreign country, but it turned out to be an excellent experience for them. Of course sometimes you have to listen to your instinct and say no to something that isn’t a good idea, but generally, saying yes is going to find you in some unexpected places.

Have you got any other fun strategies or games for getting more our of your experience in a new country? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Eurail Passes; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Fifteen years ago I travelled Europe for two months on a Eurail Pass and it was one of the best ways to get around. I found it so easy to hop on and off, and didn’t need to book ahead. For this trip with the family, we were very unsure about whether it was going to be a good option for us. We wanted some flexibility, but also wanted to be able to get around as easily and as cheaply as possible. A quick Google search brought up a lot of articles bemoaning the cons of the Eurail pass, and TripAdvisor is brimming with reports of negative experiences. We read Nomadic Matt’s article, which weighed up the pros and cons, but mostly looked at it from a single person’s point of view. Given my previous experience with Eurail, I was pushing for it all the way. Cass was a little more wary.

We had promised La Chica that we would take her to Paris for her Birthday, so we knew we would have some expensive travel coming up – we had to explore all our options. The cost of train travel is not necessarily cheap, but it’s a fantastic way to travel. You get to see the countryside, there’s no pressure of negotiating traffic and you can get up and move about when it’s  a long journey.

The Good

fullsizeoutput_1cd0The best feature of a Eurail pass for family travel is that kids under 11 years of age travel free.  That makes family travel cheaper than all other transport options by far.

We also waited for a Eurail sale where they were offering 30% off the usual price. We ended up buying a Three Country Family Pass with 6 days of travel in 2 months. Here’s how the costs worked out (all prices in Australian Dollars):

Usual cost of pass for two adults & two children (under 11) $1182.00
Minus 15% discount for travelling together at all times -$177.30
Minus sale discount of 30% -$301.41
Total cost of Eurail Pass $703.29
Price per trip (6 trips) $117.22

Barcelona to Paris without pass for two adults & two children one way is $724.95 (as at 15 June 2017). So we knew the Eurail pass was going to pay for itself just on this one trip.

The Bad and the Ugly

Hurdle number 1

Our first experience trying to book a Eurail seat reservation (required in Spain) was a challenging one. We were in Guadix wanting to book a trip to Sevilla, and we were staying 4kms from the train station without a car. Cass and Los Chicos walked all the way there, only to be told that they couldn’t make Eurail reservations at that station as it was only a small one: we would need to call or go to a bigger station. We tried calling Renfe (the Spanish train network). We called 10 times. Each time, we were on hold for half an hour. When we finally got through and started asking in broken Spanish for our reservation, the operator would cut us short and put us through to an English-speaking operator. While being transferred, it would hang up. Every time.fullsizeoutput_1cd3

On the eleventh call, after the usual hold time, the first thing I said (in carefully rehearsed Spanish) was ‘Please don’t transfer me, I’ve called 10 times and it hangs up every time. Please help me in Spanish’. He tried to transfer me but I managed to convince him not to. We finally muddled our way through the Eurail reservation in my limited Spanish and his limited patience, and got to the point of payment. My travel debit card wouldn’t work. I tried my credit card. No luck. It turns out that foreign credit cards and debit cards don’t work with Renfe.

So. We ended up paying full fare for a ticket to Sevilla (where we were going anyway) and then booked our next trip at the station there.

Hurdle number 2

After our previous experience, we thought we would get more clever about booking our trip from Spain to France. We did some more research on reserving Eurail tickets on the Eurail website. We even downloaded the app.

It turns out that you have to book more than 7 days in advance if you want to book using the Eurail website or app, and then they will post it to you. Wait…what? We don’t have a fixed address, how will they post it to us? We’re travelling on our Eurail pass!

Ok, so then you can book an e-ticket up to 2 days before your departure. Good. But only for travel within Spain or Italy. France not included. That rules that out.

So. We ended up going back to Sevilla and booked our next two trips in person there. We waited in line for over half an hour but it all got sorted and the Renfe staff were very helpful. It did cost an extra €90 to book all our seats, but financially we were still coming out ahead by a long shot.

Hurdle number 3

So now we realised that the only way to book tickets was going to be to go in person to a big train station. In Paris we went to Montparnasse station to book our departure from Paris and the queue was ENORMOUS! It was a ticket system and they had 5 tables operating, but it took a long time. There were a few chairs but nowhere near enough for the number of people waiting. We waited for over an hour and a half with tired, hungry children. I think that our children have relatively long attention spans, and we entertained them as best we could, but it wasn’t easy as there wasn’t much room to move or muck around. When we finally got our turn, it was all very easy to book. But by then our patience had waned and we weren’t feeling very positive.

Hurdle number 4

We hired a car for a few days in the north of Spain and made a special stop in Burgos to book our next Eurail trip, as it was a big station. The Renfe staff told us that there were no seats left. I couldn’t believe it as we had allowed plenty of days before departure. It turns out our Eurail pass is a first class pass, so automatically pulls up only first class seats. This is the only type of Eurail pass available to people over 28 years. I asked if we could book second class seats with our first class pass? Turns out you can. Thankfully. And there were second class seats available. Good. This was an easy hurdle to jump. Good to remember to ask for second class seats (the difference between first and second is pretty much negligible on Spanish trains anyway).

The Finish Line

Eurail passes are definitely not easy to use. Fifteen years ago they were simple, but that was before online bookings were the easiest option. If you could book online with foreign credit cards, it would be the perfect pass.

We’ve only got 2 more travel days left on our passes now, and we feel like we’ve finally got the system sorted out. There’s been a lot of stress and annoyance at how difficult our Eurail passes have been to use, but they’ve already saved us somewhere around $1000, so ultimately it’s worth the hassle. Hopefully some of you can benefit from our mistakes.

We’d love to hear about other experiences with the Eurail pass. Leave us a comment below.

DISCLAIMER: We were not given this product nor were paid to review this product. We paid for it with our own money and these are our own opinions.


Let the journey begin with Rail Europe

Riaza Trail Challenge – mountain running

I like to do things that scare me. And mountain running definitely falls into that category. While we’re in Spain, I wanted to join a race, and while reading Trail Run magazine I came across the Riaza Trail Challenge. It looked absolutely terrifying. I love running trails which also means running a lot of hills, but ‘mountain running’ just sounded so difficult.

So, I signed up, toying with the idea of doing the 40km, but eventually caving in a little to my fears (thankfully) and signed up for the 20km race.

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Elevation profile for the 20km race.

We booked some accommodation for the weekend, and I set to training. My training was spot on. I was already in good shape, so I set to upping my distance. We’re also travelling and doing a lot of walking in general, so I knew I could easily manage 20km. It was the elevation that was going to be the problem. I had run this sort of elevation before, but not at this altitude, and I hadn’t been training for hills until I signed up. We were staying in a lot of places that didn’t have a hill to be found, so I made sure I included some stairs on each run. In the last week before the race, we stayed in Asturias, which is full of mountains and hills, so I found as many big ones as I could during that week. Unfortunately, something upset my stomach that week too, so my running took a bit of a dive. It still wasn’t good by race day, but I was determined to complete the race, so pushed on, making sure I stayed well hydrated.

We arrived in Riaza on Friday afternoon, and had to wait to check in to our accommodation, so headed into the centre of town to pick up my bib and t-shirt.

On the way, we could see the mountain that I would be running. It looked high. So high. Scarily high. You couldn’t see the very top because it was covered with with a cloud cap, but even then, it looked high. I was now really, really nervous. It wasn’t the distance that made me nervous, only the height. I felt strong in my body, and I knew I could do it. I just knew I’d need to fight my mind the whole way up.

Later that day the cloud cap cleared and we could see the mountain more clearly. Since I knew my body could cope, why was I scared? The more I thought about it rationally, the more I realised that I had done everything I could to prepare and I was going to be able to make it. My goal: to make the 3 hours 30 mins cut off time.

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Preparation

Race morning I felt great. I got up early, did some stretching, ate some toast with peanut butter and banana and headed off to the start line to watch the 40km & the 60km start. Unfortunately I missed it by 5 minutes, but getting there early gave me a chance to soak up the atmosphere and get excited. There’s a real energy around the start of a running event, and it is one of the main reasons I do it. I love solitary running in the wilderness, but running at an event gets the adrenaline pumping like nothing else. I couldn’t believe I was really going to do a mountain run. In Spain!

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20 mins until start time

My husband and kids arrived to see me off at the start line, and I could see my kids were worried. They told me they didn’t want me to get lost on the mountain, and that they were worried I’d come face to face with a bear or a wolf. We assured them that bears and wolves don’t live in these mountains and I gave them a kiss thinking ‘I don’t really want to get lost either’. I had the GPS map with me. I’d be okay.

As the race started, the excitement was palpable as competitors were shouting, cheering and dancing. So much more exuberant than the start of a race in Australia. This continued for the first two kms of the race where people would randomly cheer, or clap. It made it so exciting.

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Everyone lined up in the chute ready for the start

I was armed with a very specific plan of which inclines I was going to walk, and estimates of times at each kilometre. It all went out the window at the very start of the race. Another lesson in the values of plans, but the also the value of being able to abandon them. I had anticipated running the first two kilometres to give me a good starting pace, but there were so many people on the single trail, that it was bottlenecked. Everyone had to walk, and walk at a very slow pace and the trees were so close there was no overtaking to be done. I found this frustrating, but the random cheering and clapping kept me feeling good.

I powered up the first 5 kilometres. I felt really good. I ran where I could and walked with a strong pace where I needed to. I chatted in Spanish to a lady in front of me who was doing the 11km. She told me I was crazy to go as high as the 20km. I felt she was right.

At the 5km drink stop I was right on my target pace, but was already feeling the burn in my legs, and I knew this was the steepest part coming up.

Letting some people pass me, I slowed down. I was feeling the shallower breaths required by the altitude (I was already higher in altitude than I’d ever been before). I took each step carefully and slowly. I am glad I took this approach as it got me to the 7km mark with good spirits. I paused for some breaths on the way up. Each time I did, I knew it would slow my pace down, but I knew there was still a lot of steep climbing to go. I started hearing that voice in my head, ‘you can’t do this’, ‘you’re already exhausted, don’t keep going’, ‘just stop and rest awhile’. I listened to it, and said to myself ‘you can do this’, ‘you’ve done harder things before’, ‘you did everything you could to prepare’ and ‘one step at a time’. I repeated all of these like mantras and slowly made my way up. I had to constantly battle the demons in my mind. As the incline got steeper and the air got thinner, I had more of these mental demons come and face me. I started feeling like this was the hardest thing I had ever done, couldn’t understand why I had signed up, and that mountain running really wasn’t my thing. People overtook me. I kept climbing. The tree line ended and the large rocks appeared. I kept climbing. The air chilled and I kept climbing.

At the first peak, the views opened up and I started to feel truly alive. I stopped to take a couple of pictures. What’s the point of climbing a mountain if you don’t stop to appreciate it for a moment?

The air up there was fresh and clear, the views were spectacular, and I felt like nothing could stop me now. The final ascent was exhilarating and the burn in my legs and the huffing and puffing couldn’t affect me anymore. They were just a part of being, and no longer caused any doubts in my mind.

Finally, right at the top, there was a man, all rugged up agains the wind and the cold. In my limited Spanish, I understood him to say ‘You made it to the top, well done. All you have to do now is go down!’ I thanked him profusely. A quick look at my watch showed that I wouldn’t make the cut off time. I would have to run the last 10kms faster than I had ever run 10kms before. And I was already tired. Knowing that I would miss the cut off time released me from needing to keep a certain pace, however I didn’t want to be there all day, so I started running.

The first part of the descent was a steep technical trail, very rocky, and covered with loose shale. I took it slowly. I wasn’t so hooked up on pace that I needed to injure myself. I picked my way amongst the shale and when the track widened up a little, and the shale was less, I started to pick up the pace. I kept a really fast pace and reduced my average pace so far from 14 min/km to 11min/km. I felt good.

However around the 16km mark I hit a wall. I was feeling really tired. I walked some flat sections and tried to recuperate, and kept eating my snacks at regular intervals. I ran/walked a few kms, keeping a 10min/km pace but feeling really done in. The trail followed a fast flowing river, and even though I was tired, I was able to enjoy its beauty.

Soon, I started being overtaken by the 40km and 60km lead runners. They were all looking strong. I was impressed. They shouted ‘vamos’ – ‘let’s go’ and ‘venga’ – ‘come on’ if any of them saw me walking and it really got me going. I ran the last two kilometres feeling mentally strong (but physically worn out) and I really think it was due to the encouragement from these people who had run so much further (and harder) than me.

As I turned into the village, someone yelled to me ‘ya lo has hecho!’- ‘you have already done it’, and they were the best words I could have heard. With a renewed burst, I sprinted towards the finish line, and my kids joined me in the last few metres to cross with me holding my hands.

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Drinking a beer, looking at the mountain

I didn’t make the cut off time of 3:30, but made it in 3:47, and was really happy. It was the hardest thing I have ever done (let’s leave childbirth out of this) and I was so proud of how I managed it mentally and physically. I’m always telling my kids that bravery is when you are scared of something but do it anyway. I was the definition of brave that day.

Watching the rest of the runners come in while drinking a beer in the sun,I thought to myself, that’s it. I don’t need to do a mountain race again. Good. Tick. Done.

Two days later we went for a walk to the base of the mountain. It doesn’t look so big, I thought, I’d like to do that again.

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A few days later

The Rhythm of a Spanish Day

A friend asked me the other day, ‘what do you do all day’? I hadn’t really thought about it, but I suppose when you no longer have a traditional work schedule, it might seem a bit daunting to have no structure, no particular plan, and nothing to occupy oneself.

However that is misleading. There is a structure to our days, and it has been said by many people, many times, kids need structure. However the structures of our days have to fit with the rhythms of a Spanish day which are very different from those we had in our Australian life.

In Australia, our daily and weekly schedules were shaped by school and work. Here, we have none of those constraints, but we do have siesta, longer daylight hours, and different eating times to contend with.

It took us a while to settle into the rhythm of a Spanish day. With most shops and businesses closing for siesta in the early afternoon, the errands and important matters need to be done early in the day. This can provide a real sense of accomplishment in the day. When all the nitty gritty has been taken care of early, you can enjoy the rest of the day for living.

Siesta means different things to us on different days. Sometimes we try and have a sleep, sometimes we relax in a park, sometimes we sit and read, sometimes we ignore it completely. Days where we take the time to relax in the afternoon are definitely the best. We can recharge, and it makes one day seem like two. Sometimes we laugh as we think we did something yesterday, when really it was just before siesta.

After siesta, I love the slow crescendo of the noise outside as people re-emerge from their dwellings. Around 5pm is one of the most bustling times here, and it is full of energy and excitement. Kids run to the football field, grandparents stroll along the streets, friends meet at a bar. It reminds me that we are really living, and I enjoy the importance placed on this social time of the day. It is a time that is focussed on family and friends. I think we as a family have been missing this in Australia and it is something I want to hold on to.

Spaniards eat much later in the day than we are used to. We find most people here eat a very minimal breakfast, have a snack mid-morning to tide them over, and then eat the main meal of the day around 1 or 2pm. Then there’s another light snack (often accompanied by a small beer, a caña), and then a late small meal after 8 to 9pm or later. In our first month here, we struggled with this schedule. We were wanting our main meal in the evening, usually too early for anyone to serve us, and on the odd occasion we found somewhere to eat at an hour that suited us, it was a touristy place with less interesting food, and a higher price tag.

Slowly, we adapted our eating patterns to fit our surroundings. We have the odd day where we are out exploring where it’s easier to fall into our Australian patterns and have a sandwich for lunch, then eat a bigger meal late in the day, but we’re now eating much later than we ever would have at home. The biggest impact this has had on us, is that we’re no longer trying to cook a main meal at the end of the day when we’re all tired and worn down. We’re now able to spend the evenings doing fun things together, such as going for a paseo, playing a game or sitting in a bar having a drink and discussing our day. This family time in the evening brings us together at the end of each day, and it feels good to go to bed this way.

Bedtime has disappeared since we arrived. It used to always be a time of stress at home when we were tired from work and school. The kids would want to stay up, we would want them to go to bed and that difference in opinion would result in arguments. Now, the kids are allowed to stay up until we’re all too tired, and we flop into bed. Some nights it is earlier than others, and it isn’t always without argument, but it is much simpler than it used to be. It helps that we don’t have commitments early in the morning unless we have a train to catch, so the kids sleep later in the morning than before. The wind down that we get in the evenings without having to cook a meal or stress about bedtime makes for a more joyful and relaxing evening, and I really value this time I get with the kids.

And to answer that question, what do we do all day? We explore, we ask questions, we talk in jumbled Spanish with people we meet, we teach the kids about the world, we find hidden pockets of places, we look for secret paths, we eat, and we enjoy each others’ company. Sometimes we split up so one of us can get some work done, sometimes we stick together. Sometimes we just relax, sometimes we walk all day. Sometimes I bring a book and sit at a playground soaking up some sunshine, sometimes we go for a long lunch in a mountain town. It is fulfilment driven by curiosity, and the rhythm of a Spanish day is what makes it work.

Running in Guadix (Andalusia, Spain)

You may have never heard of Guadix, it is not on the usual tourist circuit, however this town is an excellent place to visit (and run). In Granada province, Guadix is a town with a strong history. Guadix has been inhabited since prehistoric times and is famous for its cave houses that have been occupied since the 11th century.

Months ago, while hunting through AirBnB for our trip in Spain, we stumbled across this cave in Guadix [insert link]. We knew it would be an unforgettable experience for our kids to stay in a cave in the mountains of Andalusia, and it was much cheaper than staying in a bigger city, so on a whim, we booked 10 nights on the spot.

On arriving in Guadix, we had no idea what to expect, and at the train station, it turned out that no-one had heard of the street our cave was on, or where the cave was. With the aid of some very resourceful cabbies, who stopped at least 3 times to ask friends how to get there, we eventually found our cave.

It turned out that our cave was situated high above the city, with an incredible view of the cave district, city, orchards, fields and the snowy Sierra Nevada. One look a the maze of streets, caves and alleys and I wanted to go for a run. I patiently waited for the following morning when the kids were asleep, and set out for an easy dawn 5kms.

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I didn’t plan a specific route. Given the incline, I aimed to head sideways rather than down, so I could see as much of the city as possible from a number of angles. I headed west along the side of the hill and turned down any street that looked like fun. Each part of the city was completely different. The cave district was all white with terracotta roofing along the edges of hills, there was another cave district yellow walls. As I descended closer to the city, there were older terrace houses, new terraces that all look the same, and shopping districts. The climb back up to the cave was a good bit of bonus hill training.

In the 10 days we had in Guadix, every run was completely different. Streets would lead to new and interesting places, surprises at every turn. Around one corner would be a plaza of trees, around another a picturesque church with gigantic wooden doors, around another a narrow alleyway full of the most incredible buildings, while some roads would lead up to lookouts where you could get a full view of sunrise.

Running in Guadix was such an exciting adventure every time I stepped out the door. There were a few times when the trail runner inside wanted to head into the hills, however all the trails I could find were barred by private gates, so I never ventured in with a fear of offending someone.

Our First Week in Spain as a Nomadic Family

We’ve been in Spain for a week now, and it feels like a month. Each day stretches out before us as we fill it with experiences.

We have watched hot air balloons hover over our mountain-cave home, danced at a local charity fiesta, watched locals create incredibly simple but delicious foods, climbed to lookouts to see the vista, explored hidden alleyways full of surprises, eaten a variety of tapas and run through hedge mazes in the middle of one of the world’s great cities. It feels impossible that we could have done all this (and more) in just one week.

Between our two nights in Madrid we managed to see a large proportion of the city. We spent the morning in the Parque del Retiro  and then in the evening we explored around Plaza Mayor, Plaza de Sol, Palacio and Almudena Cathedral. There’s still a lot to discover next time we come to Madrid, but we had a good overview of the city.

Since then we have been living in a cave (Cueva Balcón) in Guadix that we found on Airbnb (click here to get a free travel credit for your first stay on Airbnb). While it is a little cool in the mornings and evenings, the ambience is incredible, as is the view from our balcony. We can see the snow on top of the Sierra Nevada, the cave houses nestled into the pointy and jagged hills, the white lines of the Church at Ermita Nueva, the rugged Moorish Alcazabar, the deep green orchards on the plains, and the tall bell tower of the Cathedral.

During our ten day stay, we are coming to know some people around our local area, and finding some amazing places that are a little off the tourist track. Local butchers, bakeries and bars are very accommodating of our stilted Spanish and always enjoy finding out that we’re not the usual Spanish or English visitors to Guadix.

The kids have been starting to pick up Spanish words here and there. Walking down the street, they’ll sometimes ask us about a word they have heard from someone we’ve passed, or they’ll read something in a shop window. Occasionally we hear them practicing the sounds, which sound like a Spanish gibberish, but is all part of them training their muscles. They each bought a Spanish kids’ magazine yesterday. While looking at them together, it was clear that they were understanding more than just the pictures were describing. If they can pick up this much in one week, it will be amazing to watch how their language progresses over the next month. Hopefully when they start interacting with Spanish kids their confidence will increase.

Some valuable travel lessons have been learned in the last week too:
* Australian credit cards (including travel cards) cannot purchase train tickets online. We’ve had to buy them all at the train stations so far.
* When looking up something online, the price will go up if you go back and look at it a second time. A good work-around is to use ‘incognito’ or ‘private’ mode on your browser.
* Atocha railway station in Madrid is not easy to navigate, nor were the staff very helpful. Arrive with more than 30 minutes before your scheduled departure to try and find your platform. We only just made our train.
* Getting a Spanish sim card was one of the easiest things we’ve done so far. The man in the phone store was very helpful, and the SIM cost us €10. For €20 credit we get 2GB of internet and €20 of calls. SMS between us is free as we are on the same network.

We’re living exactly the life we wanted to create. I can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner.

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Running in Madrid – Spain

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All the park gates were locked but very majestic.

The best thing about arriving a new city is an exploration run. I was so excited for my first run in Madrid, I headed out around 6am in rain and darkness. I prefer trails so I decided to head to some of Madrid larger gardens to be amongst nature, however I found quite quickly that I was too early, and they were all closed.

I decided to follow my nose and ended up seeing some of the city’s most impressive sites such as the Palacio Real de Madrid and the Catedral de la Almudena. There were no tourists around and I felt lucky to have these places to myself.

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View through the grounds of the palace.

As the light started to build around dawn, I was able to see more of the buildings, gardens, plazas and shops. It was like the city was slowly being revealed to me piece by piece. So beautiful.

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Bridge from below the Palace

Under the bridge that leads to the palace, I saw a large number of homeless people sleeping under the bridge. Such contrast between the opulence of the palace and the people who have no home to go to when the weather is so cold.

Had only planned a quick 5km, but ended up running a slow 6.8km because I kept seeing things I wanted to look at. Was so cold and wet by the end but it was so worth it.

Walked 18kms during the rest of the day checking out the sights with the family, so am glad I didn’t go for a longer run.

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Beautiful stairs to run up.