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What to do or see near Cordoba or Jaen?  If you’re already gonna be there, make sure to save a day to visit an off-the-beaten-path, gem-of-a-destination: Santa Elena.  It is a little village in Spain between Andalucia and Castile-La Mancha.  It was a random stop, 4 hours drive from Jerez, and a little hop over on the way to Madrid for the first day of our summer camping road trip in Europe.  Who would have thought that in its’ surrounding mountains was the site of the battle that marked the slow fall of Muslim rule in Spain over 800 years ago?  Santa Elena in the province of Jaen—Spain’s biggest olive-producing province, coated with what seemed like hills over rolling hills of olive trees as viewed from the road—was a pleasant surprise.

Kaj’s eyes towards the mountain site of the decisive battle “Between the Cross and the Half Moon” in 1212. What to do and see in Santa Elena, Spain?            

Christian army once gathered here to reconquer Spain, only to be surrounded by a larger Muslim army.  The Christians were doomed.  All hope was lost.  Then there was a farmer, as the story goes, who showed a passage through the mountains that enabled the outnumbered Christians to outflank the Muslims.  Sounds like the movie “300”, between the Persians and the Spartans, doesn’t it?  A little piece of crucial information from a farmer-spy changed the course of history.

This Battle of the Las Navas de Tolosa was apparently the first great victory of Christians over a Muslim army since 1187, while at this time Muslims led by Salladin was reconquering Jerusalem.  The victory in Santa Elena paved the way for the Christian re-conquest of the Iberian peninsula, aptly captured in this translated text “while the half moon grew in the east, the cross widened in the west,” as shown in the museum of the same name near the actual site, with some sort of Trojan-looking horse at the entrance.

The farmer-spy who provided information about a mountain passage that enabled the outnumbered and outflanked Christians win a decisive battle over the Muslim army.

Karol and Kaj (K+K, our kids, then 6 and 3 years old) enjoyed the museum very much to our surprise.  Sure we hyped it up; told them about castles, fortresses and… dragons… (ok, ok, I might have oversold it a bit with that one).  But they loved seeing the exhibits of swords, shields, horses.  More importantly, they loved listening to the stories and running around the museum, yelling “Shield Wall! Arrows. Loose!!!”  Of course we could not read all the informative descriptions!  There was a tower that provided a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains to take it all in and replay the ancient stories in our heads.

Plenty of fun things to do and learn about at the museum of the Battle of the Navas Tolosa.

Of course, the playground helped keep the boys’ interest. Yes, the museum has one, right next to a big covered picnic area with table, benches and beautiful views.  The playground has a zipline, various climbing structures and silhouettes of those long forgotten Christian knights and Moorish warriors.

The excellent playground at the museum of the Battle of the Las Navas, with archery and zipline and other wooden structures, lets children have outdoor free play after a visit. The shaded picnic area next to the playground at the museum of the Battle of the Las Navas, provides much needed escape from the Andalusian sun. Rest while your kids play!

If you have one day in Santa Elena, get up early enough to have a stroll to the main plaza with a church (Iglesia de la Emperatriz Santa Elena) at the southern side of  the quiet square (plaza).  The church was apparently built to celebrate the victory of the Battle of the Las Navas and contained memorabilias from it.  For play, stop by a newly built playground and have some chocolate and churros from a food truck on the way there.  Enjoy the quiet, unhurried village life.  Of course, don’t forget about the priority: the Museum of the Battle!

Take a peaceful stroll in the main square with the Church of the Empress Santa Elena and a statue of King Carlos III. Things to do and see near Santa Elena?

You could easily spend a day in Santa Elena and add at least another for nearby places.  For you nature lovers, there is a National Park (Parque Natural de Despeñaperros).  The best-preserved Renaissance towns of Baeza and Ubeda are only 45 minutes, 63 kilometers away.  Would have preferred to stay overnight in either one but the cost of lodging was beyond our budget.  The province’s capital, Jaen, is only a 45-minute drive (76 km) away.  Farther out is Cordoba (1.5 hour, 140 km).  If you are a wine lover, Valdepenas DO is 35 minutes, 56 km.  For you music lovers: Linares (30 minutes, 40 km)–the birthplace of classical guitarist Andrés Segovia, and Carmen Linares, one of the finest flamenco singers in Spain and maybe catch a flamenco show…  Remember you are on vacation.  So, relax.  Slow-roll it and enjoy life, unhurried!

Free play at a new playground in the clean sleepy town of Santa Elena. Up Next: If you have a day in MADRID, what can we do with our go-slow travel family? Thanks for sharing your time with us.  Big Smile! Like.  Share.  Comment… below.
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Jak zorganizować niedrogie rodzinne wakacje, które zadowolą zarówno Wasze pociechy, jak i Was? Czy da się zaspokoić Waszą duszę podróżnika, jednocześnie zapewniając moc atrakcji dla Waszych dzieciaczków? Tak, da się! Dla nas takim rozwiązaniem okazała się rodzinna objazdowa podróż samochodem po Europie. Brzmi szalenie?

Boli głowa na sama myśl długiej jazdy z dzieciaczkami wiercącymi się niecierpliwie w swoich fotelikach? Już spieszę, aby Wam oznajmić, ze tak być nie musi!! Nie musicie rezygnować z możliwości zobaczenia wielu ciekawych miejsc podczas jednego urlopu tylko z obawy przed niezadowoleniem Waszych maluchów! Dzieci wprost uwielbiają przygodę i wierzcie nam, potrafią dużo wytrwać, aby jej doświadczyć!

In English? To get the gist of this post in English, here’s the unedited text: “By car across Europe with small children” using GOOGLE Translator–savior of these semi-nomadic travelers . 

48 dni. 7 tysiecy km… ..w trasie z trzylatkiem i sześciolatkiem, czyli family roadtrip

Regeneracja baterii przed rozkladaniem namiotu na Kempingu w Garmish-Partenkirchen, Niemcy. Recharging batteries before pitching tent in Garmisch, Germany.

Tak właśnie, dziesiątki, a właściwie setki godzin spędzonych w aucie.. tak, istne szaleństwo! Tak mi się przynajmniej wydawało na początku. Wtedy byłam wręcz przekonana, że moje młodsze dziecko jest uczulone na fotelik samochodowy, że to nieuleczalna przypadłość, bo nawet smoczek i worki słodyczy nie pomagały jak wsiadaliśmy do samochodu. Beksa była od razu. Więc, kiedy mój mąż wpadł na pomysł podróży autem z naszego przytulnego hiszpańskiego gniazdka do Polski i z powrotem, mój pierwszy odruch to puk puk w czoło.. drugi odruch, to upewnienie się, że mamy wystarczająco dobre zatyczki do uszu, żeby uniknąć decybeli, które wydobywają się z Kaja gardziełka, jak siedzi w aucie. Jeszcze musiałam przetrawić fakt, że w związku z ograniczonym budżetem będziemy spać głownie w namiocie! Hmm.. i to jeszcze po raz pierwszy wspólnie z dziećmi! W końcu jednak ciekawość świata i dusza podróżnika wygrały. Taka okazja się może nie powtórzyć! Miałam ćwiczyć bycie pozytywną, wiec to jest właśnie ten moment. Jedziemy!

Nie ma jak śniadanko na świeżym powietrzu z widokiem na szwajcarskie Alpy! Nawet mi sok warzywny smakuje tutaj! Kemping Zernez, Szwajcaria. There’s nothing better than having breakfast al fresco with the view of the Swiss Alps. Even my vegetable juice tastes good here!

Podekscytowanie wisi w powietrzu. Jeszcze nie widzisz, ale już czujesz.

Karolek, nasz starszy syn był tak zaaferowany perspektywą spania w namiocie i używania latarek, że właściwie w ogóle nie myślał o tym, że będzie musiał wysiedzieć conieco w aucie prawie każdego dnia, żeby na tym polu namiotowym się znaleźć. Jazda w nieznane, bycie tak blisko natury, jak się tylko da (przy naszych możliwościach) oraz perspektywa pływania czyniły go od razu szczęśliwym. Nie da się również ukryć, że choć niechętnie, to rozumiał logikę mamy, która mu tłumaczyła, ze warto wytrzymać ból kości ogonowej od czasu do czasu spowodowanej siedzeniem w aucie, aby doświadczyć przygody.

Wskakujemy do basenu i uczymy się pływać! Z muzyka Mozarta w tle, bo w końcu jesteśmy w Salzburgu, Austrii. Lalalalala…hopsa! Ready to jump in the people and learn to swim with the music of Mozart in his city of salt, Austria.

Ruszamy na podbój Europy!   

Dzień pierwszy. Wyjeżdżamy później, niż zakładaliśmy, ale przynajmniej jest szansa, że maluch nam zaśnie i pierwszy dzień w podroży będzie bezbolesny. Tak, pamiętam, żeby pozytywnie myśleć! Wiecie co, chyba zaczarowałam dziecko, bo tak właśnie było! Kaj spał przez większość czasu, a jak się obudził, to na twarzy pojawił się uśmiech.. Hmm.. coś tu nie gra.. nic, nie wywołuję wilka z lasu.

Magia prysnęła dnia kolejnego, a im dalej w las, pojawiały się kryzysy i samochód czasem się trząsł od krzyków dziecka. Wszyscy jednak byliśmy tak podekscytowani kolejnymi wrażeniami, ze jakoś dało się przetrwać, a czasem nawet przekonać malca, ze atrakcje go czekające są warte poświecenia. Pomocne okazało się również śpiewanie piosenek, opowiadanie niestworzonych historii posiłkując się obrazami za oknem, a także przenośne DVD. Zabrzmi to może zbyt prostolinijnie, ale naprawdę każdego dnia było coraz lepiej. Dzieci zrozumiały, ze nie mają za bardzo wyboru, więc instynkt im nakazał, aby się przystosować.

Mali pomocnicy w akcji. Pomagamy rodzicom sprzątać! Kemping Thun-les-Bain, Francja. Little helpers in action. We help parents clean up! Campsite Thun-les-Bain, France.

Dziecięca elastyczność i łatwość adaptacji

To właśnie jest myśl najbardziej istotna. Dzieci potrafią się przystosować do nowych warunków relatywnie szybko. Zaryzykuję stwierdzeniem, że szybciej niż my, dorośli. Widać to na przykładzie z robalami włamującymi się do naszego namiotu – jeszcze niedawno strachliwy Karol potrafił sam wyeliminować „zagrożenie”, podczas gdy ja skakałam jak zając przy każdym bliskim kontakcie. Ważne, żeby przedstawić sytuację w najbardziej ciekawy sposób, nawet kiedy z nieba leje się deszcz, a trzeba rozłożyć namiot. Six często opowiadał historie o starożytnych rzymianach, którzy na polu bitwy spali pod namiotami i sporo wędrowali; albo o ninja (nasze dzieci są pod wrażeniem tych dobrych ninja), którzy musieli zachowywać dyscyplinę, trenować i być w stanie przetrwać trudne warunki bądź niewygodę. To im imponowało i często uspokajało w chwilach kryzysu. Po tygodniu w drodze, nie było w ogóle już dyskusji o tym, żeby jechać dalej.  

Ale dobrze nam się tu śpi. Chillout na jednym z kempingów. But we sleep well here. Chillout at one of the campsites.

Wesoła niewygoda

Namioty. Zero problemu. Poważnie, ani razu w ciągu 48 dni w drodze dzieci nie narzekały na spanie w namiotach. Cos niesamowitego. Ja potrzebowałam 15 minut, żeby rozgrzać stare kości i podnieść się rano z namiotu, a dzieciaki budziły się po prostu przeszczęśliwe. Jeśli na campingu był basen, to nic więcej im nie było trzeba. Radość dzieci rekompensowała wszelki dyskomfort. Nie mówię tego jedynie z dobrego matczynego serca, ale z prostej zależności: jeśli dzieci nie marudzą, to rodzice są szczęśliwi. As simple as that

Mali pomocnicy

Jednym słowem, jesteśmy bardzo dumni z naszych dzieciaków, że przy minimalnej ilości histerii i płaczu i generalnie z uśmiechami na buziach przetrwali tak długą i nieco szaloną podróż. Dumni jesteśmy także, ponieważ dzieci poznały bardziej siebie i swoje możliwości. Nauczyły się również samodzielnie myć naczynia na błysk, robić ręczne pranie i je rozwieszać, kroić warzywa na sałatkę; a co ważne, robić to wszystko z widoczną przyjemnością. Myślę, że ich przyszłe żony nam kiedyś za to podziękują.

Wniosek się nasuwa sam, jeśli nasz Kajus i Karolek dali radę, to inne dzieci też mogą! Happy camping!

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Our family plan to take a year off work and live abroad needed careful long-term planning. To convince my wife that I was not “finally at the CRAP END of CRAZY,” I first needed to think about several important questions to make a family move abroad, with two young kids in tow, possible. Then, I had to address the money/funding concerns as to how much and where to get the money for a family gap year. Next we’ll talk about the other questions that helped us (and may also help you) move closer to reaching a positive decision point. (Soundtrack: opens in new window: Should I Stay or Should I Go? ~ The Clash)

Taking a career break; a year off work.

What about your career?

Next to money, work is naturally what we had been asked about the most. So, let’s break this down a bit into the following little chunks. The bottom line up front is that we believe that by putting the career on hold for a year, we will be gaining more in knowledge and life skills that would enhance any future jobs, such as language and cultural immersion for the entire family!

I loved my job! Sure, there were a lot of things wrong with it. A few of the people I worked with, I could have lived without. But there were good ones (and bosses) too who made it fun and worthwhile. And yet, we reached a point when my wife and I had to choose whether to continue with a demanding career or change our family lifestyle so that we could have more quality time with our children. Many would say there’s a happy balance between work and family. But, like many, I fell into the trap of working too much? So we needed a year without work to put things into perspective.

Motherhood is more than a full-time job.

Ania and I planned on switching roles. By giving up my career, even just for a year, I would be able to help Ania slowly transition into the role of primary bread-winner for the family. During the year of transition, I would become a happy househusband, and it IS more than a full-time job!

When our first child was born, Ania and I decided that we would be a single-income household because we wanted to give the proper time and attention to raising our children. Sure it was a tough decision. After all, it was not exactly cheap living in Washington D.C. Working as a program/project manager for Uncle Sam did allow us to make this single-income-household choice happen. Now, in support of gender equality, it is the other way around.

Sabbatical year from work.

If you don’t want to quit your job and simply test the waters of freedom, your work may allow you to do a year of sabbatical or break with rights of return. In my previous govie jobs, I was offered that option for educational purposes, with no pay but with a right to be absorbed back to the same or similar job. The benefit for you and your work is that you could gain a new language, cultural experience, other knowledge and life skills during your break. I could not take a sabbatical for more than a year though. Your co-workers might frown upon this move especially because your work is likely gonna fall on their laps and your office could not fill a spot which you never will have vacated. Something to think about.

A semi-nomadic, roaming family.

What’s the plan for work when you get there?

If you must work during your year without work, once at destination, you may teach English (or another language). You may use your other skills that you were always passionate about to expand or teach others but never had time to follow through because of your important work. Make sure that you can actually legally work in your destination country. As Polish citizen, Ania can work pretty much anywhere in the European Union. So, we have this in the pocket, just in case we need to generate some income.

While you are still in your home country though, go ahead and sign up and set up your profiles for the various online platforms for side gigs and freelance jobs, such as Fiverr, Upwork, Freelancer, among many others.

Remember though that a year can go by so quickly, especially if you are actually working for somebody else. So, make it count. Learn the language. Volunteer locally and engage with the locals. It will be fun for the family!

For us, a year was the original plan… but only if we accomplish our primary goals within a year.

Next, we’ll talk about obtaining a Spanish visa for long-term stay and a cheap way to ship your car and household goods to Europe from the U.S.

What ideas do you have for making money and living cheaply in another country? Feel free to put them in the comments section below.

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So, you plan to have a unique cultural experience for your Easter in Spain (Holy Week/Semana Santa). Here’s what to expect whether you are going to be in Jerez de la Fronterra or anywhere else in Spain, particularly the big towns in Andalucia this Easter week (14-21 April this year) or at some point in the future.  It’s one not to miss.

Walking alongside a hooded penitent wife, a father carries a sleeping child, after a Holy Week (Semana Santa) procession in Jerez de la Frontera, Andalucia, Spain. city center congestion

Be prepared to slow down your itinerary a bit because of what would seem like

Semana Santa 2019 in Jerez de la Frontera

endless processions during the week here in Jerez de la Frontera (and other towns in Andalucia, such as Cadiz, Seville, Granada).  The city center, particularly the old historic center (within the old walls of the city), will have more people than normal throughout the day, especially towards the evening.  During our first Semana Santa here, it took us over 3 hours to get home from the train station to our apartment in the center.  It’s a 20-minute walk normally.  We got caught up in 3 different processions snaking their way through. . .  well, everywhere.  And, with kids… a L.O.C.A. (loss of cooling accident ; )

Easter in Jerez de la Frontera, Andalucia, Spain. Hooded penitents marching down calle Larga. procession of piety

There are over 40 dedicated religious fraternities here.  Each will have its group of 40 to 50 penitents, carrying a heavy load of the delicate statues of Jesus or Mary on  a heavily adorned platform on top of them.  They will be marching together one small collective step at a time through the narrow streets.  Each procession will have a pre-established route from its home parish and back that takes several hours several hours.  Some brotherhoods have full marching bands.  Others walk in absolute silence.  Some stop at pre-determined balconies to hear Saeta (a primitive religious chant that made its way into flamenco).  Others move with impromptu saeteros (singers/chanters) in the background.

A procession of piety during Holy Week (Semana Santa) along Calle Larga, Jerez. A procession during Holy Week along Calle Pozuelo, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. Penitents await the chanting of Saeta–a unique form of religious song about “the suffering, death, and majesty of Jesus Christ, and of the grief of the Virgin Mary”-D.E. Pohren.

What’s the story with the hoods? I know.  You know. We all know the first thing that many Americans see when they look at the white hoods with conical tips… the racist hate group predominantly in southern U.S.  Here, in Spain, the tradition of penitents wearing a set of tunic, robe and hood with a pointy tip at the top dates back to the medieval ages.  The purpose was (and still is) to mask the identity of those asking for repentance or forgiveness for their sins while demonstrating their penance in public.  They come in all colors here and are quite a sight to see, especially with the religious fervor of the procession and the audience alike.

Be Flexible with your schedule.  Many tourist and public places close during this period.  Some bars/clubs will close. If they are open, the schedules are erratic.  This is Catholic Spain after all.  It’s all about Jesus and Mary this week… everywhere in Andalucia for that matter.

what else to do with kids During HOLY WEEK in Jerez, Cadiz?

The processions take over the city activities here.  Here is the schedule and itinerary of some of the processions (horarios y itinerario de semana santa) from the union of brotherhoods (Union de Hermandades de Jerez).  It is in Spanish but you can decipher where the processions and at what time and the route/stops.

A comprehensive list of Holy Week processional schedule, stops and itinerary in Jerez.

As the boys are out of school (all public schools remain closed for the Holy Week), we try to go about to see at least one procession a day for their cultural experience.  At first, we thought that it would not be interesting for them as they were only 1.5 and 5 years old then.  But they were interested. Even more so, because we tell them stories about it, even though Six is not religious.  They both also ask questions about Jesus and Mary as they see many statues of them being worshipped.  The kids like the music too.

A penitent kneels during a procession during Holy Week (Semana Santa) along Calle Larga, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.

of course, kids get bored.  So what else can you do with kids?

Playgrounds. If you want to take a break from the processions, playgrounds always buy you some time (and sanity) with the little ones.  Here are 5 of the best FREE playgrounds in Jerez de la Frontera.

Flamenco.  In this “little big” town of flamenco, sherry, fighting bulls and dancing horses, there are now FREE daily flamenco shows during the Easter Passion week.

Beach play–a favorite babysitter of this happy house husband.  The nearest one from Jerez is called Valdelagrana, about 15..

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You came here for flamenco, didn’t you? And it just happens to be Easter/Passion week in this little town of flamenco, sherry, fighting bulls and dancing horses. Not to worry. The city has evolved and there are FREE flamenco shows here this Easter Passion week.

My first time in Jerez, I came to study flamenco guitar and did not think of Easter. I’m st*#pid like that, or rather, I preferred not to do too much reading before travelling to a place. I sort of wanted to have that surprised first-impression feeling. So, I came here and there was no flamenco for the second week of my stay, except the more primitive religious chant called Saeta which, I must admit, was a bit too much to digest for a newcomer to flamenco.

Traditionally there was no flamenco performance during the Holy Week. This is Catholic Spain after all. Things have changed though from my first visit here 15 years ago. Now, you can see DAILY regular performances at Tabancos La Feria
or El Pasaje (see schedule on the picture below). The best part is they are FREE entrance (gratis) and you do not even have to purchase anything. However, please DO SUPPORT the artists and local establishments. A glass of sherry or beer costs one euro or slightly more. If you want to sit down and have a more intimate relation to the artists, you can ask (or better reserve) a table up front with a minimum consumption of about 20-25 euros for 4 people. That’s with tapas and drinks already!

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What memorable family things to do with kids in Spain during the Holy Week (Semana Santa)?  If you are here, you cannot miss it–the religious processions all week long. . .  everywhere!  In Andalucia such nazarenos (penitents’) parades are apparently much more glamorous than in the northern parts of Spain.  In Jerez de la Frontera, there are week-long processions of over 30 dedicated religious fraternities; many have their origins date back to the medieval ages.

www.freeelectrons.family Easter in Spain: cultural experience with kids - YouTube

These processions of worship happen 5 to 6 times a day, day and night into the wee hours of the morning, all over the city.  Each would take hours to depart from and return to their parishes.  Each has its pasos (floats) with sculptures of Jesus, Mary and scenes from the Passion of the Christ, some as old as the hermandades (brotherhoods) themselves.  This is a cultural and educational experience for the entire family, whether you are a Catholic or not,  believer or not. . . with children or not.

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“Tata, we are gypsies, right?,” my then 6-year old son Karol asked me. We were looking at a map, talking about his diverse friends in school, why we have moved from the “yellow house” to the “blue house” to the “white house” in the past two years, and our future plans to move elsewhere.

Well, yes! We are in a way gypsies (or here: gitanos ). . . not by blood but by choice of lifestyle. We roam albeit slowly; arrive at a place we like and absorb the good things that we like and need to absorb like language (here, Andalu/Spanish) and unique aspects of a culture (here, flamenco). 

We’d like to immerse ourselves in the culture of our new home, make a few new friends, give what we can, share of our time. . . And when it’s time move on, we roam again!

 

Today is International Day of the Gypsy People (Dia Internacional del Pueblo Romani/Gitano):  “A day to raise awareness of the human rights problems experienced by Roma.”

In Jerez de la Frontera, there is an event sponsored by Unidas Podemos (United We Can) at Cine Astoria with a concert by artists like Tomasa Peña and Fernando del Morao.  While we have no affiliation with the Unidas Podemos political party, it is worth mentioning its call for “diversidad es riquieza” (diversity is richness) that affects all the marginalized groups of any society, living in the fringes, the borders . . .  beyond the borders of our minds and of this little big town called Jerez. 

Here’s what the Unites States government has to say about International Roma Day today  and here, the United Nations Regional Information Center’s International Day of the Roma.

We raise a glass to you gitanos, gypsies, nomads, roamers, freedom riders. . . old and new, living and dead, digital or not… on this special day for humanity. Ole! ole! ole!
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