Team Kezmoh runs to Nerja

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Nerja on the Mediterranean

Nerja on the Mediterranean

Mike and I have been wanting to run from our village of Alhama de Granada across the Sierras Tejeda y Almijara National Forest to the city of Nerja on the Mediterranean since we arrived in Spain.   The Sierras Tejeda y Almijara is 406 km2  of beautiful, rugged, mountainous wilderness. The national park divides Granada province, where we live, and Malaga province to the South.  The mountains beckon us, we are drawn to explore the many trails that climb through the canyons under the shade of pine trees and the endless blue skies of Southern Spain.  In the past few months we have spent many days exploring the trails on our side of the national park but despite our efforts we have covered only a very small fraction of the routes that are close to Alhama.  Whenever we reach points where we can see the Mediterranean in the distance we agree that if we can see it we need to run there!Parque-Natural-de-las-Sierras-de-Tejeda-Almijara-y-Alhama-2004

We consulted guide books, friends in Alhama and our friend Paul’s many maps of the region.  We ran from La Resinera near the village of Forne several times scoping out the beginnings of the trek across the mountains.

On one of our many exploratory runs. This time Leslie with the lovely Ali Boston who came to spend a week running with trailrunspain.com

On one of our many exploratory runs. This time Leslie with the lovely Ali Boston who came to spend a week running with trailrunspain.com

We knew that we could reach the Puerta de Frigiliana 7 miles up a nice dirt road from La Resinera office.

The road from La Resinera

The road from La Resinera

From the Puerta de Frigiliana we could see the ocean and white villages on the opposite side of the park.  How hard could it be to find a route down to the beach if we could see our destination?

We recruited our friend Eric to run with us.  He has lived here for a few years and knows many routes on the Granada side of the mountain because he helps organize Al Andalus, ( alandalus-ut.com )  a 5 day, 230km trail stage race based in Alhama every July.  This would be a new adventure for Eric since he had never attempted the route. He was excited to join us on the trek so our group became 3.

Mike and Eric preparing their packs at the car. The sun was already high in the sky when we got started...

Mike and Eric preparing their packs at the car. The sun was already high in the sky when we got started…

Prepared with toilet paper and plenty of water

Prepared with toilet paper and plenty of water

The road from our side of the mountain was deceptively smooth.

Eric and Mike run on ahead, what a nice wide road...

Eric and Mike run on ahead, what a nice wide road…

We had run to the Puerta de Frigliana many times and we knew that there was a excellent trail for at least the first 8 miles or so.  From the Puerta we could see Lucero (1780meters/5840 feet).

Mike and Leslie feeling strong after the climb to the Puerta de Frigiliana

Mike and Leslie feeling strong after the climb to the Puerta de Frigiliana

Eric and Mike  Fist bump at the top of a climb, almost time to start down!

Eric and Mike
Fist bump at the top of a climb, almost time to start down!

We continued the up the road which became progressively steeper and more rocky until we reached  5100 feet by my Garmin.

5100 feet

5100 feet

From there, the trail plunged downward and became more irregular.

IMG_5843 IMG_5845We carefully made our way to what appeared to be the end of the trail.  We looked around and found a pile of rocks, a “cairn or duck” left by previous hikers to designate the direction to continue.  From there the trail was quite overgrown.

Which way?

Which way?

Oh dear, where is the trail?

Oh dear, where is the trail?

We imagined if there were people leaving rock piles it should really get better soon. We followed the trail squeezing between the various spiky bushes.  After about a mile we were considering turning back.  Just as I was about to agree that this trail was impassable Mike and Eric spotted El Cortijo de Inman a definite landmark on our map.  I had a picture on my phone of a map from my trail guide so we were sure that we were on the right trail.

Picture from my book of the trail we should be on

Picture from my book of the trail we should be on

Surely after the Cortijo the trail would improve.  Farmhouses, even in ruins, generally have a road of some kind leading to them. Eric scurried ahead of us and explored the ruins.

El Cortijo de Inman

El Cortijo de Inman with Eric

While he found plenty of evidence of previous visitors at the Cortijo, cigarette butts, water bottles,  (even a pair of pants!),  we surveyed our scratches and looked for the next cairn.

Eric took this picture as we surveyed our bloody legs

Eric took this picture as we surveyed our bloody legs

The trail leading away from the Cortijo de Inman was no better than the one we arrived on.  We had now trudged through more than 3 miles of densely covered terrain and our legs were burning from the scratches (if only we had worn thick pants! ) so turning back was less than appealing.  We found another rock pile and followed the trail down the canyon.  At this point there were many dwarf palms which look quite pretty but have lethal spines.  I accidentally grabbed a branch to move it out of the way and blood oozed through my glove.  We started calling the dwarf palms the little palm trees from hell.  “Be careful palm tree from hell on the left!”  Amongst the various spiky plants were sage and rosemary.  We learned quickly that rosemary is soft to touch so we would preferentially grab or lean on the rosemary branches to squeeze past their dangerous neighbors.  Although bloody, my gloves smelled lovely at the end.  After an eternity of moving very slowly through overgrowth above my head in many places we came upon La Presa, a dam that was clearly marked on our map.  IMG_5862The dam  was very old and long since abandoned.  There was an acequia, an aqueduct, that was for the most part, intact.  Our guide book recommended walking along the aqueduct as long as “vertigo is not a problem”.  Actually Mike read that part of the book and let us know that for the next few kilometers it would be wise if we just paid attention to our footing.  If we wanted to look around it might be best that we all stopped in a wide spot.

This is a picture of the acequia (aqueduct) from google images

This is a picture of the acequia (aqueduct) from google images

Unfortunately we could see the sun slipping more quickly toward the horizon and we started to get really nervous that we were going to be out on an unfamiliar trail well beyond nightfall.  As dusk began to fall, we walked as quickly as we could manage safely along the side of the aqueduct which was about 12-18 inches wide and very uneven in places. In many spots there were holes big enough to fall through.  As it got darker I would call out irregularities to Mike and Eric behind me.  We were needing to stop to eat but were afraid to waste even a moment of daylight not moving forward.  Eventually the narrow walkway became very difficult to see and I started to feel panicky. What if one of us slips and falls over the side? At this point we couldn’t even see when it plunged sharply over a cliff. Occasionally there would be a thin wire stretched along the side.

Another picture from the internet. When we passed this spot it was dark and we couldn't see the drop off!

Another picture from the internet. When we passed this spot it was dark and we couldn’t see the drop off! I don’t know who the people are.

We could no longer see but had to assume if there was a wire railing that it was a more precarious section.  We were careful not to put any faith at all in the tiny guide wires.  It was unlikely if we fell that that wire would hold any of our weight.  I pulled out my Iphone and used it for about 50 meters until Mike suggested that we try his flashlight.

Too dark for pictures

Too dark for pictures

He had brought a multi-tool that had a knife and a flashlight. He thought the light would not be strong enough to guide us but as it turned out I think it probably saved our lives or at least prevented us from losing the trail in the dark.   He took the lead and held the light so that it shone in front of him but also a bit behind so that we could follow.  We moved very slowly and deliberately for another 30 minutes until we started to hear the sound of a waterfall.  In the dark the sound of crashing water over a cliff was a bit more terrifying than usual. It was then that I remembered that the guide book recommended bringing a bathing suit for a nice, refreshing dip in the water.  In December, in the dark, with the chill of night closing in we did not want to get wet.  Mike announced we were stopping and warned us that we were going to need to go through the water.  We had reached the end of the acequia and to get past where it plummeted into the darkness were were going to need to walk through the water for about 20 feet. Mike carefully tested the surface under the water with his left foot. We had to walk along the edge of the waterfall.  If the cement was slippery this would be very dangerous.  Thankfully the water was only up to our knees and the pavement wasn’t slippery.  We all held hands and slowly, deliberately, took very small steps until we reached safe ground.   I was shivering when we emerged from the water. I wasn’t sure if it was from the cold or from the fear that I was trying to keep under control.  We had been worried for at least an hour that we could be going in the wrong direction but at this point we could see the lights of Nerja and we ventured a mini celebration and stopped for a small snack.  When we emerged from the acequia there was a narrow, rocky path that switched back and forth down the side of the mountain in the general direction of the lights.  We stayed close together and moved slowly through the dark.  We finally came to what appeared to be a very old electrical station.  Horray, surely there will be a road from there! OK, so no road but there was a sign with an arrow indicating “dirección obligatorio”, obligatory direction.  Again, we were really grateful for the flashlight without it we might have missed the sign. We didn’t find out what was in the other direction but if someone went to the trouble to put up a sign like that it wasn’t anything good.  The obligatory direction path sent us straight down an even steeper, twisty, rocky path.  We had been traversing the side of the mountain on the aqueduct so we were happy to be moving toward sea level but wouldn’t have minded a bit more gentle descent.  The rocks were uneven and mobile and we each took at least one slip onto our backsides.  Between slips Eric’s phone rang, ahh cell service! Michelle was calling, worried that she would be late meeting us.  He assured her that we were OK but it would probably still be awhile before we would meet her in Nerja.  We finally reached flat ground and found ourselves at the Rio Chillar which, likely due to the drought was little more than a very wide creek.  We could no longer see anything resembling a trail but now that we were out of the trees the moon was shining brightly just over our destination.  It seemed to be there just for us to guide us to warmth and safety. The moon was 3/4 full, a gibbous moon, it shone on the white rocks and illuminated the path. Our shoes already wet, we cheerfully bounced over rocks and through the water.  We reflected that it was a huge relief to be on solid ground where if we fell it would only be to the ground under our very own feet, not 100’s of feet below.  The rio led us to a dirt road that crossed under the freeway and eventually to a road that lead us up to a residential neighborhood in Nerja.   I love running in the mountains and I am never happier than when I am in the forest with soft dirt beneath my feet, but let me tell you, I was so happy to see the pavement that night!  Mike, Eric and I whooped with joy as we ran down a familiar road to the hotel.  We were actually able to RUN and it felt so good after so many hours of tense hiking.   It was hard to believe that the first half of the adventure took 2 1/2  hours while the second half took 6!  I had reserved a room at the Paradores de Nerja, a very posh spot right on the beach.

Too dark for a good picture. Here we are at the sign outside the hotel

Too dark for a good picture. Here we are at the sign outside the hotel

Michelle came out to take our picture. We can still stand on one leg!

Michelle came out to take our picture. We can still stand on one leg!

Nerja, a beach town, is a ghost town in December so the price was right. We were very dirty, our legs were bleeding and we probably didn’t smell very good but the lovely people at this very fancy hotel welcomed us with curious smiles.  Michelle was waiting for us in the lobby with bags of warm clothes.   She was calmly working on her computer using the hotel’s “abierto” wifi.  She hugged us, ignoring the sweat as we excitedly recounted the past few hours.  I am pretty sure we were all talking at once we were so excited and relieved to be standing in the lobby of a a 4 star hotel! We checked in, showered and in no time were in search of food. We had eaten breakfast but that was many hours ago and 8 hours of running/hiking on only energy gels and granola bars left us starving.  Amazingly we found a wonderful Indian restaurant. We ordered a bottle of the house wine because the waiter told us that it was special Indian wine from Argentina.  What an international day we were having!  We talked and laughed and ate and ate.  We slept hard at the Parador that night.  In the morning I awoke to the sound of the mediterranean outside our window. The Parador is on the beach and the view from our room was breathtaking.

The view from our room in Nerja

The view from our room in Nerja

Our original plan was to run back to La Resinera the day after our trek to Nerja but even in the daylight repeating that trail was not on our list of fun adventures. One time past the Cortijo de Inman and along the acequia was enough for us!  What luck Michelle had opted to drive to Nerja to meet us!

The runners in the morning. It was important to touch the water!

The runners in the morning. It was important to touch the water!

Thanks Michelle!

Thanks Michelle!

Eric and Michelle drove us back to our car by way of (of all things!) a McDonalds.  How happy Mike looked eating his quarter pounder and french fries.  We made it home in time to pick up the girls from school.  I hugged them hard and promised myself that our next adventure would include more running and less danger.

My legs at home the next day. Mike made me include this!

My leg at home the next day. Mike made me include this!

Thanksgiving in Spain

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Thanksgiving in Spain

This is a post that I wrote a year ago when we were in Alhama de Granada, España.  I didn’t finish it until well after Thanksgiving so I thought I’d just wait a year…

Pumpkin pie made with real pumpkin!

Pumpkin pie made with natural pumpkin. No cans of pumpkin in Spain!

In our little village, Alhama de Granada, we are the only Americans in town. There is one Canadian and several other European expats but we are the lone Americans.  But… outside of town live Michelle, Eric and Barbara who are Americans with whom we instantly felt at home.

What a lot of great food!

Thanks for the amazing food!

Although they hardly knew us, Michelle and Eric invited us to spend Thanksgiving with them.  They promised turkey, stuffing and football. How could we refuse?

Futbol Americano!

Futbol Americano!

Of course Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Spain but it is the one holiday that seems to inspire some homesickness for me.  It is not about the food, most of my Thanksgiving memories involve my grandmother making a special dish just for my cousin and me.  We are both vegetarians and being from Illinois, that might just mean that we are mutants. Maybe it is a recessive trait but for a  family of farmers from Illinois, vegetarians are about as rare as they are in Spain.  Anyway, Grandma Ann always made an mushy eggplant and velvetta dish for my cousin Lindsey and me. At the time it wasn’t my favorite but here in Spain I found myself longing for it in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.  No, Thanksgiving is not about the food and certainly for me it is not about the football. It is about it being an American holiday. It is about being in a place where you feel completely comfortable and belonging. I am enjoying this year abroad and we have glimpses of belonging amoungst our new friends.  However, there is nothing is more homey than Thanksgiving on the farm with family.

Michelle and Eric live in a very cool cottage near the village of Santa Cruz de Comercio. Michelle is a writer and Eric is a musician.  They are also runners so we were instant friends with that alone in common. Eric also stars in one of my previous posts: Team Kezmoh Runs to Nerja.   Michelle, Eric and Barbara along with our friend Paul Bateson put on 2 amazing trail races near Alhama de Granada: Ultima Frontera  which I ran and wrote a post about in October:  Ultima Frontera Race report. The other race is in July. It is called Al Andalus Ultimate Trail .  It is a 5 day 230 km stage race based in and around Alhama de Granada.  Sadly we will be back in California by then so we will miss the fun.  Anyone interested in running with me in 2015?

We arrived armed with a big bowl of sweet potatoes and empty tummies.

Sweet potatoes, my Thanksgiving specialty.

Sweet potatoes, my Thanksgiving specialty.

Our new friends welcomed us with hugs and kisses.  They introduced us to Alina and Lawerence Strong who were strangers to us then but have become like family to us in the past months since we met them on Thanksgiving.

Eric, Alina and Lawerence

Eric, Alina and Lawerence

Thanksgiving 2013 fell on the first day of Hanukkah so our first course was a delicious matzo ball soup. Michelle read a blessing and lit a candle.

Matzo Ball Soup

Matzo Ball Soup

We sipped Spanish wine, and ate turkey that had to be ordered specially because it is not normally sold in local stores.

The kid's table. An international Thanksgiving tradition.

The kid’s table. An international Thanksgiving tradition.

We enjoyed the food and the conversation.

Savannah, Eric, Alina, Lawrence and Sky

Savannah, Eric, Alina, Lawrence and Sky

Sky Michelle, Barbara and Savannah.  I love it that the girls posed with each side of the table!

Sky, Michelle, Barbara and Savannah.
I love it that the girls posed with each side of the table!

After dinner Sky and Savannah pulled out their iPads and the boys enjoyed some American football.

Michelle, the Thanksgiving goddess with Savannah and Sky

Michelle, the Thanksgiving goddess with Savannah and Sky

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Getting to see Football was exciting for Mike because it is just not on TV here. Eric was able to download it from the internet.

We spent the day with our new friends and felt like we were beginning to have a family here in Spain.  A year later I looked back at these pictures and felt Thankful for friends and family both here in California and across the pond.

Mike and Eric

Mike and Eric

Good fun!

Good fun!

Team Kezmoh goes to Granada

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November 2013 ALHAMBRATeam Kezmoh goes to Granada and picks up our second visitor!

Our friend Carolina arrived on the train in Granada. You may recall from previous posts that Carolina is the young woman from Sevilla, una sevillana, who came to stay with us in California last summer.  In November she was on break from the Universidad de Sevilla where she is studying education.  After her stay with us last summer Carolina became part of our family so we were very excited that she made the 3 hour train trip to visit us. We picked her up at the train station in Granada. There seems to be endless construction in the center of town so we drove in circles until we were all dizzy. We finally parked the car and walked to the train station.  Lovely Caro was waiting for us on the steps. The girls ran to hug her, happy to see her smiling face. From the train station we walked to the Plaza de los Toros where we had lunch at El Coso which is a lovely place located literally under the bleachers of the bull-fighting stadium.  We are not fans of bull-fighting so this was as close as we will make it to a bull fight. The service and the food were exceptional. Our waiter was really funny and left a lasting impression with the girls.

El Coso in the Plaza de Toros

El Coso in the Plaza de los Toros

Beautifully presented dishes

Beautifully presented dishes

Sea Bass

Sea Bass

After lunch we snaked up switch-backs to our hotel, La Hostel Ninfa in the Realejo neighborhood of Granada.

Hostal La Ninfa

Hostal La Ninfa. Notice the big ceramic Pomegranate, a “Granada”. Granada literally means pomegranate and images of pomegranates are everywhere

I chose the hotel for it’s proximity to the Alhambra and the cool pictures of the facade on the internet. It was not easy to find but using the GPS we managed.  It is owned by a German woman and her Moroccan husband who is an artist.  It is decorated inside and out with painted ceramic plates and stars.  We had a lovely view of the sunset when we arrived. That night we paid the price in sleep deprivation for being close to tourist sights and restaurants with noisy people and cars in the streets below. The best part of Hostal La Ninfa was a surprise. There was a great park across the street. The kids never wanted to leave and any future outing had to include a stop at the park before and after.

Thanks to Carolina for the cool pictures!

Thanks Carolina for these cool pictures!

woo whooo!

woo hooo!

In the morning we had breakfast at a little restaurant across the plaza called El Campo del Principe.

Churros and tostada con tomate for breakfast

Churros and tostada con tomate for breakfast

By the Christmas tree after breakfast

By the Christmas tree after breakfast

Mike, Carolina, Sky, Savvy and I hiked up a very steep hill to the Alhambra.  I was thankful  that the girls were fit and old enough to walk because it was not long ago that we would have been carrying them up a hill like this.

The walk from the Albacín up to the Alhambra

The walk from the Albaicín up to the Alhambra

The Alhambra is considered an obligatory tourist attraction on a visit to Granada. It is the most visited tourist attraction in Spain and has more than 2 million visitors/year.

Ready to see the Alhambra

Ready to see the Alhambra

It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. The Alhambra is one of the best preserved Arabic palaces of its time.  It was finished around 1333 during the Nasrid dynasty. The Moors enjoyed a peaceful reign until 1492 when Queen Isabel I and King Ferdinand ordered an invasion. When the Catholic monarchs conquered Granada they ended 8 centuries of Arab rule in the Iberian Peninsula. After 1492 the Alhambra was used by the Christian rulers.  It fell into disrepair a century later and was at times inhabited by vagrants and was even used as soldiers’ barracks during Napoleonic times. The American author, Washington Irving, who wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and who is famous for his travels in Spain lived in the Alhambra.  During his time in the Alhambra, he was inspired to write his book, The Tales of the Alhambra in 1829.

A plaque in Washington Irving's room at the Alhambra

“Washington Irving wrote his Tales of the Alhambra in these rooms in the year 1829”                                                            A plaque in Washington Irving’s room at the Alhambra

To get the most out of our visit to the Alhambra we scheduled a guided tour.  We wore headphones so we could hear our guide while he walked ahead.  He was very knowledgeable but seemed to be giving the tour more for his own performance than for the group’s benefit.

Carolina and Sky with our guide

See what I mean?  Carolina, Savannah and Sky with our guide

Explaining the courtyard of the lions

Beautiful architecture

The intricate interiors of the Alhambra are amazing. 

Under Islamic law, no depictions of living beings (people, plants or animals) were allowed.  Instead, the walls and ceilings are covered with symbolic, geometrical patterns, as well as verses from the Koran.  

 

Decorated with geometric patterns

Decorated with geometric patterns and Arabic phrases

There are eight-pointed stars, representing the convergence of heaven and earth wherever one looks.  Once we learned about this, the 8 pointed stars were like “hidden Mickeys” and we found them everywhere. The Alhambra was built with wood, plaster and brick.  Interestingly ,these materials were chosen not to last, implying humility before Allah.  This was also the reason for the intentional occasional gap or irregularity in the design, since aspiring to perfection was considered blasphemous.

A ceiling once painted multiple colors

The ceiling was once painted multiple colors

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe view of Granada from the Alhambra is amazing around every turn.

Mike with his tour guide headphones

Mike with his tour guide headphones

My favorite view :)

My favorite view 🙂

Granada

Granada

Carolina, Leslie and Savvy

Carolina, Leslie and Savvy

Within and around the palaces the gardens are endless. They have an amazing system of irritation that dates back to the construction of the Alhambra.  IMG_5745

 

Sky

Sky

Team Kezmoh at the Alhambra

Team Kezmoh at the Alhambra

Beautiful walkways

Beautiful walkways

The Alhambra tour was beautiful but exhausting and by the end we were ready for a rest.  We hiked back down the hill, stopped, of course, at the park…  My idea of resting and Sky and Savvy’s is not the same! SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

 

 

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We had dinner at our hotel’s pizzeria restaurant across the square.

Cool ceramics everywhere

Cool ceramics everywhere

It had the same decor as the hotel which was more interesting than the food.  The girls had a lot of fun taking pictures.IMG_5713 IMG_5707

Team Kezmoh, eating again

Team Kezmoh, eating again

The next day we explored the Parque de las Ciencias which was highly recommended for children.  Einstein was sitting out front so we paused to pose for a picture with him.

Savannah and Sky with Albert

Savannah and Sky with Albert

The Parque de las Ciencias is huge. Our favorite section was el viaje del cuerpo humano (the voyage through the human body)  which included really cool stuff like a video of a live human birth.

Very cool for kids to see a birth

Very cool for kids to see a birth. Sky decided to skip it.

There were exhibits of other animals as well. Savannah really liked the preserved hearts.  There was a preserved whale heart next to a tiny human heart.

Whale heart!

Whale heart!

I especially liked the exhibit of the smoker lung compared to the healthy lung.  Outside there was a mariposario (butterfly house) which was a bit of a disappointment compared to the butterfly park that we visited in Benalmádena near Malaga.  However, we love all butterfly parks so it was a mandatory stop for us.  There were outside gardens, a giant chess board, Marie Curie, and lots of activities for the kids. We spent the entire day there and only saw a fraction of the place.

Savvy, not thrilled to be posing with one the most famous female scientists of all time.

Savvy, not thrilled to be posing with one the most famous female scientists of all time.

Cool activities

Cool activities

Carolina photographing the butterflies

Carolina photographing the butterflies

Stick Bugs

Mike checking out the Stick Bugs

In this exhibit everyone felt small.

In this exhibit everyone felt small.

 

We explored Granada on our way back to the hotel.  We were hungry so I checked Trip Advisor and found a recommended Mexican restaurant.  Team Kezmoh and Carolina love Mexican food!

Leslie, Savvy, Carolina, Sky and Mike waiting for our burritos. Does the wall look familiar to anyone! Love it!

Leslie, Savvy, Carolina, Sky and Mike waiting for our burritos. Does the wall look familiar to anyone?  Love it!

We found Chile Grande Cantina Mexicana, a little bit of Mexico in the heart of Granada and we were not disappointed.

Ole!

Ole!

We had Coronas with lime, chips, guacamole and burritos.  We stayed until they closed for their break before dinner (which in Spain starts at 8pm). Carolina posed with the cool waitstaff on their way home outside.

Carolina posing with the staff of Chile Grande Cantina Mexicana

Carolina posing with the staff of Chile Grande Cantina Mexicana

We passed the rest of the evening playing at the park outside of the hotel. In the morning we headed back to Alhama de Granada.

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Spinning round and round and round with crazy hair!!!!!

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Silly girls on the swings.

It was a full weekend! Luckily Carolina stayed for the rest of the week so the girls were able to give her a tour of our pueblo. She stayed with them while we had our adventure to Nerja (see previous post).

If anyone has questions about visiting Granada with kids feel free to send me a comment. By the time I send this I will have been back several times.